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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Warner Bros. on Friday said it has given the green light to start filming two movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novel "The Hobbit," ending months of speculation over whether it would finally be made into a Hollywood movie.
Peter Jackson, who directed the smash hit "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy that features some of the same characters as "The Hobbit," will be at the helm of the new movie, which begins production in February, Warner Bros. said.
Jackson co-wrote the screenplays with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and director Guillermo del Toro.
"Exploring Tolkien's Middle-earth goes way beyond a normal filmmaking experience," Jackson said in a statement. "It's an all-immersive journey into a very special place of imagination, beauty and drama. We're looking forward to re-entering this wondrous world with Gandalf and Bilbo."
The movie, a co-production of Warner Bros., its New Line Cinema division and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, had been stalled in pre-production for months as MGM fell on hard financial times.
Originally del Toro had been picked to direct and Jackson to produce, but the delays caused del Toro to drop out in May and move on to other projects.
Warner Bros. and MGM have reached a deal allowing MGM to cover its half of the production, estimated to cost a total $500 million, which includes the costs of shooting in 3D, sources told show-business newspaper The Hollywood Reporter.
"The Hobbit" is based on the adventures of one Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who lives in the land of Middle-earth that is filled with wizards, elves and other fantasy characters. Bilbo goes on a quest to find treasure guarded by a dragon.
The book, which was first published in 1937, is the precursor to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which also takes place in Middle-earth.
The "Rings" trilogy grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide at box offices, and in 2003 the final chapter, "Return of the King," swept the Academy Awards, winning in all of the 11 categories in which it was nominated, including best film.
Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Sheri Linden