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Someone probably saw this coming, after his frustrated-sounding comments the other day (with respect to MGM’s troubles slowing down the films) but it is still a shock to see that Guillermo del Toro is no longer directing The Hobbit for producer Peter Jackson.

del Toro announced his departure via long-running LotR fansite The One Ring, and you can read his comments after the break.

The short version is that, thanks to MGM’s financial troubles, getting the Hobbit film(s) into motion has taken a lot longer than expected, and the production isn’t expected to be able to go forward any time soon. Guillermo del Toro already has loads of other directorial projects queued up to follow The Hobbit, and with the protracted, uncertain schedule, there is less and less time to make those other movies.

Sounds like del Toro, not the speediest filmmaker in the first place, is fed up with waiting to move forward, and wants to get back to actually making  movies.

(I wonder, too, if the Miramax troubles which have affected Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the remake he produced and wrote, have also contributed to his impatience.)

So GdT is out of the director’s chair, but will continue to collaborate with Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens on the Hobbit screenplays until they are finished. Meanwhile, a new director will be sought. After my disappointment with The Lovely Bones, I half hope that Jackson will step in and do these himself. If anyone is going to make these films, he’s probably the best choice, but I’m not sure if it would be a creative rejuvenation or an act of resignation for him to do so.

Here’s the statement from Guillermo del Toro:

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 wish 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.

Peter Jackson, meanwhile, says,

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 [sic] 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

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