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Ian McKellen, Guillermo del Toro

New Line Cinema, Lester Cohen/WireImage.com

Bilbo Baggins just lost his wingman.

Guillermo Del Toro, handpicked by Peter Jackson to helm The Hobbit movies, has pulled out of directing the two-part Lord of the Rings prequels due to ongoing troubles at the two studios behind the hugely anticipated J.R.R. Tolkien-based flicks, MGM and New Line.

"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," Guillermo announced Sunday on TheOneRing.net fansite. "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."

Del Toro had moved his family to New Zealand to prep the films with Jackson, and shooting had been penciled in for this summer to make a holiday 2012 release. But MGM and New Line couldn't get their act together, and del Toro couldn't wait any longer.

"The blessings have been plenty, but the mounting pressures of conflicting schedules have overwhelmed the time slot originally allocated for the project," del Toro continued. "I wish the production nothing but the very best of luck and I will be first in line to see the finished product. I remain an ally to it and its makers, present and future, and fully support a smooth transition to a new director."

He will remain a cowriter on the project with Jackson and his LOTR partners, Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens.

Jackson struck a sympathetic tone in his own statement. "We understand how the protracted development time on these two films, due to reasons beyond anyone's control—has compromised his commitment to other long-term projects. The bottom line is that Guillermo just didn't feel he could commit six years to living in New Zealand, exclusively making these films, when his original commitment was for three years."

The two films are still being developed to shoot back to back in New Zealand, and Jackson and his Oscar-winning team said the hunt would begin for a new director immediately.

But there is no word yet on when shooting will begin or when the first installment is due in theaters.

Where's Gandalf when you need him?

(Originally published May 30, 2010, at 8:45 p.m. PT)

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