‘The Hobbit’ Gets Its Greenlight, With Jackson Directing (Updated)

Exclusive: The long-delayed Hobbit will start production in February, though labor issues are not yet resolved

Update: Friday, 6 p.m.

“The Hobbit” is now greenlit and will begin principal photography in February 2011, MGM, Warner Brothers, and New Line, have confirmed.

As TheWrap reported exclusively earlier Friday (below), Peter Jackson will direct the two-part film.

“Exploring Tolkien’s Middle-earth goes way beyond a normal film-making 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 — and our friends at New Line Cinema, Warner Brothers and MGM."

Earlier

EXCLUSIVE

'The Hobbit' has been greenlit and will start production in February, an individual close to the production has told TheWrap.

As TheWrap reported previously, Peter Jackson has agreed to direct the film in addition to producing and writing the two-part project.

In the agreement completed this week, Jackson's deal was finalized and MGM and Warner Brothers agreed to give the project its long-awaited greenlight.

The greenlight means that millions of global fans for the revered J.R.R. Tolkien property can look forward to a prequel to ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ which was one of the most successful movie franchises in movie history.

Read also: "Faces of 'The Hobbit' Movie: Bilbo to Gandalf"

Jackson was already on board to write and produce "The Hobbit." But because of financial turmoil at MGM, which owns half of the franchise together with Warners' New Line Cinema, the project became one of the most torturous in Hollywood history.

Sets have already been built in New Zealand, and actors – including Sir Ian McKellan – have been on hold for months.

Martin Freeman has been rumored to play Bilbo Baggins.

With the logjam finally broken, production will begin in February.

However, the individual said that labor issues related to the production have still not been resolved, and negotiations will continue with the Screen Actors Guild. The union flap involves whether the production would use Screen Actors Guild members or not. 

About $30 million has already been spent on the project, the first part of which is scheduled to hit theaters Dec. 19, 2012.

But Warner Brothers was wary about moving ahead at the risk that an agreement with MGM may not hold up over time.

At MGM, the decision about greenlighting “The Hobbit,” a $400 million, back-to-back production of two films, has been hanging between CEO Stephen Cooper, owners-in-waiting Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum of Spyglass Productions and the creditors committee at MGM.

Spyglass has signed a letter of intent to give the production company 4-5 percent ownership of MGM in exchange for taking over the company’s management. That deal would entail a prepackaged bankruptcy, under the supervision of the judge and with the accord of the studio’s debtors and investors.

But just this week, takeover king Carl Icahn threw his weight behind an alternate plan, to have Lionsgate merge with MGM instead. Icahn owns 30% of Lionsgate, and about 10% of MGM's debt.

So that outcome remains in flux, with a vote pending by MGM debtholder on October 22. That may not happen at the appointed time, however, as many of MGM 100 creditors are asking for a 3-week delay on voting, so they can have time to weigh Lionsgate's 11th hour proposal.