Guillermo del Toro is in talks to direct back-to-back installments of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit," which is being co-financed by New Line and MGM.
Del Toro's name was on a short list of directors who could tackle the project, one of the most anticipated literary adaptations of the past decade. An ill-chosen director for "Hobbit" could put billions of dollars at stake for New Line and MGM and could turn off an audience that encompasses millions of passionate readers, Tolkien fans and obsessive geeks.
Few filmmakers have the cachet that del Toro has, as well as a deep love for the source material, an assured grasp of fantasy filmmaking and an understanding and command of geek culture as well as its respect. Del Toro has built that goodwill through such films as the Oscar-nominated "Pan's Labyrinth," "Hellboy," "Blade 2" (which was made by New Line) and "The Devil's Backbone."
For New Line, making "Hobbit" had become a priority in the wake of its billion-dollar success of the Oscar-winning "The Lord of the Rings" movies, which were co-written and directed by Peter Jackson. Jackson wanted to adapt "Hobbit," but when he got into a dispute with the studio over profit participation, the project went into limbo; neither New Line nor MGM, both rights-holders to the film, wanted to risk alienating fans of the trilogy by making an adaptation that didn't have Jackson's involvement.