New Line hasn't officially announced start date

Ian McKellen is predicting that the first of the two “Hobbit” films will start shooting in July, even though New Line hasn’t officially greenlit the pics.

“We have not set a start date yet,” a New Line spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Peter Jackson has been aiming to complete the second “Hobbit” script — written with Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens and director Guillermo del Toro — which would trigger calculation of the budget and setting a start for lensing in New Zealand.

“The Hobbit” films are being exec produced by Jackson and Walsh with MGM and New Line co-financing. The two pics are based on JRR Tolkien’s novel, which follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, who obtains the ring that was the centerpiece for “The Lord of the Rings.”

McKellen declared on his web site that shooting will begin in New Zealand with filming taking more than a year.

“Casting in Los Angeles, New York City and London has started,” McKellen added. “The first draft is crammed with old and new friends, again on a quest in Middle Earth. The director Guillermo del Toro is now living in Wellington, close to the Jacksons’ and the studio in Miramar.”

Some “Lord of the Rings” cast members, such as Andy Serkis and McKellen, will make return appearances in “The Hobbit.”

New Line shares financing rights with MGM/UA, which bought the original rights in 1969. The Lion could conceivably sell those rights as part of MGM’s restructuring.

Warner topper Alan Horn said earlier this year that the most probable scenario would be a release of the first film in the fourth quarter of 2012.

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