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Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema announced an agreement today to make a movie out of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, a prequel to the Lord of the Rings movies for which Jackson won multiple Academy Awards. Jackson will also make a sequel to The Hobbit, with a storyline yet to be announced.

The films will release in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

The Associated Press reported that Jackson will only executive produce the films, but Saul Zaentz, producer of the LOTR movies, reportedly told the German magazine Cinema that Jackson will also direct the film. But MGM Chairman Harry Sloan, who was credited by all parties for bringing about the deal, said Jackson found it "impossible" to direct the film and meet proposed release dates in 2010 and 2011 due to other projects on which he is now working.

Regardless of whether Jackson directs or not, the news comes as a bit of a surprise, since the relationship between Jackson and New Line Cinema soured after the mammoth success of the LOTR films. Jackson had sued New Line over the amount he was paid for The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the LOTR's three films.

But on Tuesday, both parties announced that the litigation has been resolved. One can't help but wonder if New Line hurried to resolve those differences once it became clear that The Golden Compass, now in theaters, wasn't going to be a box office hit. The relative failure of Compass may mean that New Line will scrap potential plans for sequels to that film—there are three books in the trilogy on which it is based—which has been embroiled in controversy for the last few months.

According to a press release from New Line, Jackson, MGM Chairman/CEO Harry Sloan and New Line Co-Chairmen Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne have entered ...

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