Peter Jackson has been hinting he has more than enough Middle Earth material for three "Hobbit" films since Comic-Con, but it was still a surprise to many J.R.R. Tolkien fans when the announcement was made official today.

Originally intended as just two films, the filmmaker, Warner Bros., New Line and MGM have decided to refashion Tolkien's original fantasy novel into three parts.  This is somewhat shocking for a book that traditionally only has 320 pages, but Jackson and his team have mined Tolkien's Appendices for more material.

In a press release Jackson stated, “Upon recently viewing a cut of the first film, and a chunk of the second, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and I were very pleased with the way the story was coming together. We recognized that the richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, gave rise to a simple question: do we tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as filmmakers and fans was an unreserved ‘yes.’ We know the strength of our cast and of the characters they have brought to life.  We know creatively how compelling and engaging the story can be and—lastly, and most importantly—we know how much of the tale of Bilbo Baggins, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur would remain untold if we did not fully realize this complex and wonderful adventure. I’m delighted that New Line, MGM and Warner Bros. are equally enthusiastic about bringing fans this expansive tale across three films.”

Toby Emmerich, President and Chief Operating Officer, New Line Cinema added, “We completely support Peter and his vision for bringing this grand adventure to the screen over the course of three films. Peter, Fran and Philippa’s reverence for the material and understanding of these characters ensure an exciting and expanded journey that is bound to please fans around the world.”

MGM's CEOs Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum noted, “With the abundance of rich material, we fully endorse the decision to further develop what Peter, Fran and Philippa have already begun. We are confident that, with the great care the filmmakers have taken to faithfully bring this journey to the screen, the film will be welcomed by the legions of fans across the globe."

Jeff Robinov of Warner Bros. also added, “Peter, Fran and Philippa have lived in this world and understand more than anyone its tremendous breadth and scope, and the relationships that bind it together.  We strongly support their vision to bring this great work fully to life.”

The announcement noted that the first film in the trilogy, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” will be released as scheduled on December 14, 2012. It did not refer to the second film, currently known as "The Hobbit: There and Back Again," when listing its releasing on December 13, 2013 opening date. The third film is currently slated for summer 2014. It appears a new title will be in the works for the second film.

All three films will be released in 3D, 2D and IMAX.