Part one is due out in 2012, and part two will follow in 2013. So here's all the lasting casting news and scoop:
Saoirse Ronan joins the cast, but who will she play (January 2011)? It's turning into quite the Jackson reunion special down in New Zealand. The latest bit of casting news comes courtesy casting director Ros Hubbard, who stated in an interview that not only Ronan, but her entire family will be having a blast down in the land of the Kiwis as they work on the two-part series. "[W]orking with Peter Jackson is like working with a family," Hubbard told IFTN "So they'll have a great time. Saoirse's family will go too. Everyone is very close and very loving on those sorts of jobs. It's not like typical studio movies at all." It's still unclear what Ronan's character would be, but we think she'd fit right in with the Elf community.
Is two minutes of Legolas worth $1 million (January 2011)? Rumors that Orlando Bloom would be joining the Hobbit and reprising his role as the archery-skilled elf have been going around for ages. But now it seems the actor is close to inking a deal...and if it goes through, it'll be a nice chunk of change for just a touch of screentime. MTV reports that Bloom is getting close to finalizing an agreement that would see him hit the big screen in Peter Jackson's latest flick in a two-minute cameo that would pay—you ready?—$1 million. That's a pretty decent working rate. Granted, nothing's been confirmed, but only two minutes of our favorite elf just feels like a tease.
The Hobbit just got way more Gollum-y (January 2011): Middle-earth's favorite stalker is ready for his close-up once again. True, the character of Gollum is done with motion-capture technology, but is there really anyone else more perfect for the role than Andy Serkis, the man who brought the former Sméagol to the big screen in The Lord of the Rings? No. That's your answer. And since Sméagol made regular appearances in The Hobbit, we're excited to see more of that transition to Gollum...as well as Serkis finally getting to work while standing upright.
Ian McKellan officially on as Gandalf (January 2011): Though he was one of the first Lord of the Rings castmembers to express interest in reprising his role for The Hobbit, nothing had technically been official. Until now. As of early 2011, McKellan has inked his deal to once again grace the big screen as the wise wizard. That took long enough. McKellan was quoted back in 2008 telling the U.K.'s Empire magazine "Yes, it's true. It's not a part that you turn down. I love playing Gandalf." Seems like all those roadblocks the film came up against early on took their toll.
Elijah Wood's Frodo is heading back to the Shire (January 2011): Another interesting turn from director Peter Jackson: employing a character that didn't originally appear in The Hobbit in his new big-screen adaptation. Is this inclusion just a cynical ploy to get a wider audience interested in the film? ("Hey, remember all those characters you loved from Lord of the Rings? We'll they've been invited to this party too! Sweet, right?!") So on the one hand, we're scratching our heads over how this is going to work, but on the other hand, Jackson has more than proven he's a master when it comes to compelling storytelling. Intrigued? Yes. Confident that whatever Jackson comes up with will work? Definitely.
Orlando Bloom in talks to return to Middle-earth (Dec. 8, 2010): E! News confims that the Elven star of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy is in talks to appear in Jackson's Hobbit adaptation. As Legolas didn't feature in the original book, speculation starts to swirl as to what the filmmakers have in store for the Brit actor. Lost-like flashforwards perhaps?
He won't be alone...
The Hobbit finds its Bilbo Baggins (Oct. 22, 2010): It's officially confirmed that British actor Martin Freeman (of the original Office) will be playing the titular Shire hero, Bilbo Baggins, in Jackson's two-part Lord of the Rings prequel.
In a statement Jackson says, "Despite the various rumors and speculation surrounding this role, there has only ever been one Bilbo Baggins for us."
Production to begin in early 2011...in New Zealand (October 2010)! New Zealand's film community decides Middle-earth belongs in the Southern Hemisphere. After months of conflict between the filmmakers and the country's film unions over the former's intention to use nonunion employees in the production, Prime Minister John Key announced that a resolution had been reached and that The Hobbit would be filmed in New Zealand. Shortly after the announcement, the filmmakers reveal principal photography would begin in February 2011.
Peter Jackson comes aboard as director (June 2010): With the departure of original director Guillermo Del Toro following multiple setbacks in production, the man who's dedicate a substantial amount of time to bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's work to the big screen steps up as The Hobbit's helmer. Though del Toro was a solid choice given his Pan's Labyrinth pedigree, Hobbit lovers everywhere breathe easy knowing the franchise is in good hands.
Guillermo del Toro drops out as director (May 31, 2010): As financial problems with studio MGM and conflicts with New Zealand film unions reach a fever pitch, the man who'd been tapped to lead the journey back to Middle-earth decides he's had enough. In a letter to fans, del Toro says: "In light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming The Hobbit, I am faced with the hardest decision of my life. After nearly two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Tolkien's Middle-earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures."
No Gimli for The Hobbit (October 2009): With casting speculation running rampant, one of the original Lord of the Rings players announces he will not be appearing in the prequel. John Rhys-Davies who gruffly worked his way into the world's heart as the dwarf Gimli announces he won't be returning. In a statement, he revealed: "I have already completely ruled it out. There's a sentimental part of me that would love to be involved again. [But] really I am not sure my face can take that sort of punishment any more."
Gandalf is back (August 2009)! Could anyone else ever really embody the wisdom and gravitas Sir Ian McKellan brought to the role of the wise patriarch? Doubtful. In a glee-inducing announcement at a London Lord of the Rings marathon, McKellan confirmed to the crowd that was in fact onboard to reprise his role as the heroic wizard.
Daniel Radcliffe shuts down Bilbo talk (August 2009): When the original flurry of casting speculation began, the lead contenders for the role of Bilbo Baggins include James McAvoy, David Tennant and Harry Potter star Radcliffe. But just as quickly as the rumors start, Radcliffe takes himself out of the running, telling the Los Angeles Times, "I'd have to say, 'Thanks but no thanks,' not that anyone has asked me...Honestly, I don't think they would want me anyway, it's just too close. Whatever I do next, I don't think there will be any wizards in it!"
The Hobbit will be two films (April 2009): In an interview with Empire, Peter Jackson confirms that The Hobbit is just too much to do well in one film. Good news for those of us hoping for as much time as possible on Middle-earth. Jackson is quoted as saying, "We decided it would be a mistake to try to cram everything into one movie...The essential brief was to do The Hobbit, and it allows us to make The Hobbit in a little more style, if you like, of the [LOTR] trilogy."
The Hobbit is coming to the big screen (December 2007): Peter Jackson and studio reps from MGM and New Line Cinema release a statement announcing their new partnership to bring J.R.R. Tolkien's novel to the big screen. In a statement, Jackson says, ""I'm very pleased that we've been able to put our differences behind us, so that we may begin a new chapter with our old friends at New Line. The Lord of the Rings is a legacy we proudly share with Bob and Michael, and together, we share that legacy with millions of loyal fans all over the world. We are delighted to continue our journey through Middle-earth."