Just two weeks ago, the idea that Peter Jackson would split The Hobbit into three movies instead of two as originally planned seemed like wild, unfounded speculation. But then Jackson began floating the possibility at Comic-Con, negotiations with Warner Bros. picked up, and now Jackson has confirmed that it’s official: The Hobbit will be a trilogy.

The details are still being hammered out, so there’s a lot that even the folks involved aren’t sure of at this point. However, we do have an inkling of what the title and timetable might be. Jackson is reportedly eyeing a summer 2014 release date for the third movie, though an exact date has not been announced. As for the title, domain registrations suggest The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: Riddles in the Dark as potential names. Read more after the jump.

UPDATE: Jackson has taken to Facebook to post his own statement about the decision to split The Hobbit into three films, while the studio has issued a new press release. Read Jackson’s comment after the jump.

According to Deadline, Jackson and Warner Bros. are still ironing out the details. What they do know is that a summer 2014 opening is being considered, in a surprising break from tradition for the franchise. All three Lord of the Rings movies opened in December in consecutive years, and the first two installments of The Hobbit are scheduled for this December and next December. But competition tends to be brutal at the end of each year, so perhaps it makes more sense for the third Hobbit — which already has some awards pedigree, thanks to the critical success of the Lord of the Rings movies — to take over the slot previously occupied by Warner Bros.’ Dark Knight films.

What the new film will be called remains up in the air, but Fusible has picked up some very interesting domain registrations made in the past week, including:

http://whois.domaintools.com/desolationofsmaug.com

http://whois.domaintools.com/riddlesindark.com

http://whois.domaintools.com/thedesolationofsmaug.com

http://whois.domaintools.com/thehobbitdesolationofsmaug.com

http://whois.domaintools.com/thehobbittheriddlesinthedark.com

http://whois.domaintools.com/theriddlesinthedark.com

Riddles in the Dark is the title of the fifth chapter of The Hobbit, and refers to events that are likely in the first movie, while “The Desolation of Smaug” refers to the lifeless wasteland charred by the burning breath of the dragon Smaug. The domains were privately registered through MarkMonitor, which also manages TheHobbitAnUnexpectedJourney.com and TheHobbitThereandBackAgain.com.

This online activity isn’t exactly a confirmation of anything. It’s possible that these have been locked down for some other use, like a different Hobbit-related project, or that the marketing team could come up with another name altogether. On the other hand, we’ve gleaned some good info from domain registrations in the past, so it’s something to keep in mind.

The first chapter of the J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, opens December 14.

UPDATE: Here’s what Jackson has to say about splitting The Hobbit into three movies. There’s no confirmation here of dates or titles, but we thought it worth a look anyway.

It is only at the end of a shoot that you finally get the chance to sit down and have a look at the film you have made. Recently Fran, Phil and I did just this when we watched for the first time an early cut of the first movie – and a large chunk of the second. We were really pleased with the way the story was coming together, in particular, the strength of the characters and the cast who have brought them to life.  All of which gave rise to a simple question: do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers, and as fans, was an unreserved ‘yes.’

We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance.  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, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth.

So, without further ado and on behalf of New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Wingnut Films, and the entire cast and crew of “The Hobbit” films, I’d like to announce that two films will become three.

It has been an unexpected journey indeed, and in the words of Professor Tolkien himself, ”a tale that grew in the telling.”

Cheers,

Peter J

The full press release can be found here.

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