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Guillermo del Toro quits The Hobbit

Middle-earth left without a director

With the start of principal shooting being postponed, on average, every other week (that's what it's seemed, anyway) The Hobbit has looked like it's taking a whole-hearted shot at breaking records for the length of its stay in pre-production. Unfortunately, Guillermo del Toro, the director of the two Lord Of The Rings prequels being adapted from JRR Tolkien's novel, has decided that enough is enough, and left Middle-earth behind.

With financial issues at MGM leaving The Hobbit trapped in the same production limbo as the Bond franchise, del Toro has clearly decided that he'd rather get on with one of the other movies on his rather hefty development slate than hang around in New Zealand indefinitely – a massive shame considering we were really excited to see what del Toro was capable of when given free rein in Tolkien's world. On the plus side, del Toro will hang around in New Zealand a while longer to polish the two screenplays with Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson and his co-writers, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh.

“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," del Toro tells “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 wlsh 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."

Now Jackson and co have the unenviable task of finding a man to step into del Toro's rather intimidating shoes. The two Hobbit movies are currently scheduled for release in December 2012 and December 2013, but frankly, we'll believe that when we see it.