Just a few days after speaking frankly about the financial troubles that were causing delays for the production of "The Hobbit," Guillermo Del Toro and Peter Jackson officially announced today that Del Toro will no longer be directing the films, although he plans to stay attached to the project long enough to complete his work on the screenplays.

In a letter to The One Ring, Del Toro and Jackson spoke at length today about the reasons behind Del Toro's departure from the project, but it really boils down to the delay.  Right now, Del Toro's already spent two years preparing the films for shooting, but with no start date in sight, it's possible he could be waiting for another year or even two years before they're ready to shoot.  Having originally set aside three years of his life to make the movies, he's looking at potentially giving up twice that much time, and for a director, that can be an unacceptable proposition.

"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.  I remain grateful to Peter, Fran and Philippa Boyens, New Line and Warner Brothers and to all my crew in New Zealand.  I’ve been privileged to work in one of the greatest countries on earth with some of the best people ever in our craft and my life will be forever changed.  The blessings have been plenty, but the mounting pressures of conflicting schedules have overwhelmed the time slot originally allocated for the project.  Both as a co-writer and as a director, I wlsh 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."

Reading that may upset and outrage fans, but the truth is that Del Toro has no choice here.  He's had enough difficult periods in his career already that he knows how tough it can be to get momentum going again after time away from directing. 

After all, there were four years between "Cronos" and "Mimic," and after "Mimic" came out, it took him three more years to get "Blade 2" made.  For a guy who's been making acclaimed genre films now for 17 years to only have 7 films to his credit is a crime, and part of that is because this is a guy who doesn't do anything halfway.  He throws himself into his films with abandon, and he invests his full creative energy in each of his projects.  Stalling out like this after two years has got to be incredibly painful, but better he walk away now and turn his attention back to a project like "At The Mountains Of Madness" or "Drood" or "The Witches" or his "Frankenstein" or another "Hellboy" or "Hater" than just wait around while MGM continues to fail miserably at working out their financial problems.

In the statement to the One Ring, Peter Jackson had this to say:

"We feel very sad to see Guillermo leave the Hobbit, but he has kept us fully in the loop and 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.  Guillermo is one of the most remarkable creative spirits I’ve ever encountered and it has been a complete joy working with him.  Guillermo’s strong vision is engrained into the scripts and designs of these two films, which are extremely fortunate to be blessed with his creative DNA.  Guillermo is co-writing the Hobbit screenplays with Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and myself, and happily our writing partnership will continue for several more months, until the scripts are fine tuned and polished.  New Line and Warner Bros will sit down with us this week, to ensure a smooth and uneventful transition, as we secure a new director for 'The Hobbit.'  We do not anticipate any delay or disruption to ongoing pre-production work."

Considering the dents in his own commercial strength after "The Lovely Bones" took a commercial and critical beating this past holiday, could Jackson end up being the director for "The Hobbit" after all?  It's certainly a possibility, and we'll certainly keep you posted on what happens with these films in the next few weeks and months, as well as what Guillermo ends up doing instead.

One thing's for sure:  MGM is now the studio that chased Sam Mendes off a James Bond film and Guillermo Del Toro off "The Hobbit."  So if you're a financing entity wondering if you should back the studio, analyze those decisons and ask yourself if that sounds like a company worth backing.  The road back to Middle Earth just got a little longer today, and a lot less interesting.  Here's hoping whatever Guillermo does next returns him to that blend of personal and fantastic that makes his best work so very intriguing.

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