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Last night saw a special marathon screening of the extended editions of all three Lord of the Rings films at London’s BFI IMAX cinema, which is where where I caught the Avatar Day footage as it happens. I wasn’t present for the Rings overnighter, but some friendly snoops were and they’ve tipped me off as to something very exciting that started the proceedings off with a bang.

Ian McKellen was present in person to intro the screenings, and while he only spoke for a very short time, he managed to get the crowd into something of a frenzy. Not only did he confirm that he’ll be coming back as Gandalf, and is expecting to start work on set in March of next year, he also dropped a bit of a casting bombshell. According to McKellen, the starring role of Bilbo Baggins has been successfully cast already. Not only that, but he knows who has the role and he’s sure that the fans will be very, very pleased. Immediately the crowd started murmuring about James McAvoy, which suggests to me that they haven’t been keeping up on their Slashfilm. Over just the last few days we’ve revealed that he’s signed on for I’m With Cancer and is negotiating for a role in Robert Redford’s Lincoln drama The Conspirator. This isn’t a man with a big Hobbity hole in his calendar, it would seem.

McKellen also revealed that he is expecting his own personal copy of “the script” within the next fortnight. This is most likely, I feel, to be just the script for the first film, dramatizing the first half of Tolkien’s The Hobbit novel. Jackson appears to have made it clear recently that work was drawing to a close on that portion but that they were much further back in developing the second part.

There was an awful lot of gossip and buzz in the audience at the BFI IMAX last night, with some purporting to be in the know and even claiming that Guillermo del Toro has started shooting already. I’ve had lots of this rumour related to me but it all seems flimsy and fabricated, maybe just ‘improbable’ at best. For now I think we’ll just stick with what McKellen was offering and hope that his tease is thwarted soon by an official announcement of the casting.

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