December a hot month for Bilbo Baggins

Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” movies have been given official release dates and titles. The first will open Dec. 14, 2012, as “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” and the second will be released on Dec. 13, 2013, as “The Hobbit: There and Back Again.”

Both pics had been expected to see release during the holiday season. “An Unexpected Journey” will open against Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” from Fox while “There and Back Again” is the first pic set for the 2013 holiday season.

Announcement was made Monday by MGM, New Line and New Line parent Warner Bros.

Jackson began shooting the two films in New Zealand in 3D in mid-March with a cast including Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett reprising their roles from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Bloom joined the cast Friday to portray the elf Legolas.

Cast also includes Richard Armitage, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher, Sylvester McCoy, Bret McKenzie, Graham McTavish, Mike Mizrahi, James Nesbitt, Dean O’Gorman, Lee Pace, Mikael Persbrandt, Conan Stevens, Ken Stott, Jeffrey Thomas and Aidan Turner.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 together with Walsh and Carolynne Cunningham; exec producers are Ken Kamins and Zane Weiner, with Boyens as co-producer.

In January, New Line parent Warner Bros. reached a deal 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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