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Hellboy helmsman to direct The Hobbit

Guillermo del Toro travels to Middle Earth

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Guillermo del Toro, director of Hellboy and Oscar-winning Pan's Labyrinth, will direct two Lord of the Rings prequels slated for release in 2010 and 2011, the BBC reports.

The first will be an adaptation of The Hobbit, the second an "original story" bridging the 60-year gap between Tolkien's first Middle Earth outing and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Peter Jackson will produce the movies, and New Zealand will once again provide the backdrop for the action.

In traditional Hollywood love-in style, Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh acclaimed del Toro as "a cinematic magician who has never lost his childlike sense of wonder", and added in a statement: "We have long admired Guillermo's work and cannot think of a more inspired film-maker to take the journey back to Middle Earth."

Del Toro, 43, enthused: "Contributing to the Lord of the Rings legacy is an absolute dream come true."

Casting details are not as yet forthcoming, and whether Brit thesp Sir Ian McKellen reprises his role of Gandalf remains to be seen. The veteran actor last year expressed his keenness to once again don a hat and cape, saying: "If I am still functioning and working well, it is very likely I would be asked to do it." ®

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