Guillermo Del Toro Leaves <i>The Hobbit</i>

Citing "ongoing delays" in beginning production, Guillermo del Toro announced today he won't be directing The Hobbit. He will, however, remain as a co-writer of the two screenplays.

"In light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming The Hobbit, I am faced with the hardest decision of my life," del Toro wrote on TheOneRing.net, a Lord of the Rings fansite. "After nearly two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures."

A draft of the second screenplay, by del Toro, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens, reportedly was finished in April, but uncertainties surrounding the future of MGM have left The Hobbit in limbo. Although the first of the two movies is supposedly set for release in December 2012, the studio has yet to give the official greenlight.

Delays threatened to create a scheduling logjam for del Toro, whose development slate stretches into the next decade with such films as Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Drood and, possibly, a follow-up to Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

"The bottom line is that Guillermo just didn’t feel he could commit six years to living in New Zealand, exclusively making these films, when his original commitment was for three years," Jackson wrote at TheOneRing.net. "Guillermo is one of the most remarkable creative spirits I’ve ever encountered and it has been a complete joy working with him. Guillermo’s strong vision is ingrained into the scripts and designs of these two films, which are extremely fortunate to be blessed with his creative DNA."

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