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‘Hobbit’ moves closer to bigscreen

New Line, MGM said to be close to greenlight

“The Hobbit,” which has been stuck in limbo this year, has moved closer to a greenlight from co-financers New Line and MGM.

Though neither studio had any comment, sources close to the situation indicated that an official go-ahead on the back-to-back films may be coming within a few days. But those sources also emphasized that a greenlight is still not a certainty.

The studios have been faced with several challenges in finalizing the start of production. MGM has been mired in trying to sort out its debt-laden balance sheet and move toward a pre-packaged bankruptcy that would leave Spyglass Entertainment chiefs Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum in charge of the storied studio.

The studios also need to sort out the dispute with the New Zealand actors union, which has managed to persuade the seven major actor unions to boycott the production because they allege that local performers are treated unfairly and deserve a union contract. Peter Jackson, who’s expected to direct in addition to writing and exec producing, has threatened move the production to Europe but a source with knowledge of situation said that dispute may be settled soon.

Jackson has not committed to direct in the wake of Guillermo Del Toro’s departure in May. The studios’ statement said that while they are “proud” of their good relations with the unions, the assertions regarding the New Zealand actor are unfair and baseless.

“The Hobbit” films are based JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy novel about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, who obtains the ring that was the centerpiece of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy of books and films. Del Toro, who committed to direct “The Hobbit” pics in 2008, said in May that sets, wardrobe, animatics and planned battles sequences had all been fully prepared.

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