The studios behind Peter Jackson's 3D extravaganza The Hobbit have announced the names of the two-film adaptation and their release dates.
The first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, will be released on December 14, 2012, while the follow-up, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, will be released on December 13, 2013.
It follows this week's announcement by Jackson that Orlando Bloom will also return to portray elf Legolas, who originally appeared in Jackson's Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Both Hobbit films, based on J.R.R Tolkien's novel, are set in Middle-earth, 60 years before The Lord of the Rings. The films are currently being shot in digital 3D using RED EPIC cameras at Stone Street Studios, Wellington, and on location around New Zealand.
The Hobbit follows the journey of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.
Other actors who appeared in The Lord of the Rings to return to The Hobbit include Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey; Cate Blanchett as Galadriel; Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo; Christopher Lee as Saruman; Hugo Weaving as Elrond; Elijah Wood as Frodo; and Andy Serkis as Gollum.
The ensemble cast also includes Richard Armitage, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher, Sylvester McCoy, Bret McKenzie, Graham McTavish, Mike Mizrahi, James Nesbitt, Dean O’Gorman, Lee Pace, Mikael Persbrandt, Conan Stevens, Ken Stott, Jeffrey Thomas, and Aidan Turner.
The screenplays for the two films are by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro (who was originally slated to direct) and Peter Jackson. Jackson is also producing with Walsh and Carolynne Cunningham. Ken Kamins and Zane Weiner are executive producers with Boyens serving as co-producer.
The Hobbit films are productions of New Line Cinema and MGM, with New Line managing production. Warner Bros Pictures is handling worldwide theatrical distribution, with select international territories as well as all international television licensing being handled by MGM.