It's confirmed, we mean it this time. Guillermo del Toro, New Line, MGM, Peter Jackson and all other interested parties have definitely, finally made a deal, and Empire's favourite Mexican will soon be heading to New Zealand for four years to make two back-to-back Hobbit movies.
The announcement of perhaps the world's worst-kept secret comes after months of the principals discussing the idea in public, leaking information and generally paving the way for today's news. Now it's confirmed that Del Toro will be moving to NZ after he finishes work on Hellboy 2, and expects to be there for about four years. That means we're looking at release dates in 2011 and 2012, assuming shooting starts next year, for The Hobbit and an in-between-quel set in the 77-odd years that pass between that story and The Lord of the Rings.
The films don't have a definite planned start date yet, nor a script, although it's expected that Jackson and his Lord of the Rings collaborators Phillippa Boyens and Fran Walsh will be involved in that. It is confirmed, however (again surprising precisely no one) that Weta will be involved, and that New Zealand will once again be doubling for Middle Earth.
Expect the casting rumour mill to start churning any minute, but for a few moments at least, let's enjoy the knowledge that The Hobbit is definitely happening and leave it at that.