Peter Jackson in talks to direct ‘The Hobbit’

Helmer would replace Guillermo del Toro on two films

Peter Jackson may wind up in the director’s chair for the two “Hobbit” films.

In the month after Guillermo del Toro departed the project, Jackson has been in talks to take over as helmer, according to a source close to the situation.

Confirmation was not available from co-financiers MGM and New Line, or from Jackson’s rep at Key Creatives.

But, if the talks pan out, his appointment won’t be a complete surprise. On the same day that del Toro’s departure was announced, Jackson told a New Zealand newspaper he hadn’t ruled out directing the “Hobbit” duo.

“If that’s what I have to do to protect Warner Bros.’ investment, then obviously that’s one angle I’ll explore,” Jackson said in an interview with the Dominion Post.

At the same time, Jackson noted that stepping in as “Hobbit” director would be difficult as he had signed writer and director contracts for two other unidentified films.

Jackson also said he wasn’t anticipating a delay or disruption to pre-production on the project and indicated that the pics were on track for releases in December 2012 and December 2013.To make those release dates, production would probably have to begin by the end of this year.

Jackson’s a producer with Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy on “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn” for Paramount, DreamWorks and Sony, due out at the end of next year. He’s also expected to direct the “Tintin” sequel — although it’s unclear what would happen with that assignment should he direct the “Hobbit” films, which will be shot back to back.

MGM/UA bought “The Hobbit” rights in 1969. The films have still not been officially greenlit by New Line and MGM, which would trigger calculation of the budget and set a start for lensing in New Zealand.

MGM’s debtholders are in the midst of sorting out the future of the studio, which is hobbled by debts of $3.7 billion.

Del Toro has blamed the delays in getting a greenlight on the lack of a resolution to MGM’s ownership situation — an assertion that New Line denies.

“The Hobbit” films, which are being exec produced by Jackson and Walsh, are based on 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 that sets, wardrobe, animatics and planned battles sequences have all been fully prepared.

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