Pic will be released December of next year

New Zealand will host the world premiere of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in November 2012.

Producer-director Peter Jackson and Prime Minister John Key made the announcement Friday at the Hobbiton set in Waikato. The city of Wellington hosted the world preem of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in December 2003.

“I think Warner Bros., in particular, were blown away by the ‘Return of the King’ premiere,” Jackson said at the news confab. “No one in the international industry could quite believe how the country got behind it.”

Warner Bros. has set Dec. 14, 2012, for the release of the first of the two “Hobbit” pics. Jackson began shooting them in New Zealand in 3D in mid-March with a cast including Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Andy Serkis, Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett reprising their roles from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

J.R.R. Tolkien novel is set 60 years before “Lord of the Rings,” with Bilbo the unassuming Hobbit who becomes a hero by obtaining a powerful ring in the face of challenges by the wicked Gollum and a dragon named Smaug.

The screenplays are penned by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro and Peter Jackson. Jackson is also producing the films, together with Walsh and Carolynne Cunningham; exec producers are Ken Kamins and Zane Weiner, with Boyens as co-producer.

New Line parent Warner Bros. reached a deal in January to handle worldwide distribution on “The Hobbit,” taking over most international distribution and homevideo on the two films from MGM in exchange for funding MGM’s half of the production costs.

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