peter jackson getty 'The Hobbit' greenlit; Peter Jackson will directThe long and twisty off-screen journey of “The Hobbit” looks like it’s finally coming to an end: The much-anticipated production finally has a start date.

“The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson has finalized a deal to direct the two-film prequel in addition to co-writing the script and producing. Filming is scheduled to begin in New Zealand in February, The Wrap reports.

The green light for “The Hobbit” ends a years-long preproduction saga involving financing (Warner Bros. and the financially shaky MGM are co-producing it), a director — Guillermo del Toro initially signed on, then dropped out, and Jackson wavered for some time before agreeing to helm the project — and other issues. In fact, not all those issues are yet resolved: Negotiations over whether “The Hobbit” will use Screen Actors Guild members are ongoing.

]]>Sir Ian McKellen, who will reprise his “LOTR” role as Gandalf — are already signed. The Wrap says Martin Freeman, who starred in the British version of “The Office,” is a contender for the lead role of Bilbo Baggins. The first “Hobbit” film is tentatively scheduled for release in December 2012. Follow Zap2it and Zap2itRick on Twitter and Zap2it on Facebook for the latest celeb news and buzz. Photo credit: Getty Images

Posted by:Rick Porter