Filming on Hobbit movies to start in March

WELLINGTON Mon Feb 7, 2011 3:03pm EST

Director Peter Jackson (L) of New Zealand shakes hands with New Zealand's Governor-General Anand Satyanand after being knighted by Satyanand at Premier House in Wellington April 28, 2010. REUTERS/Dominion Post/ Kent Blechynden/Pool

Director Peter Jackson (L) of New Zealand shakes hands with New Zealand's Governor-General Anand Satyanand after being knighted by Satyanand at Premier House in Wellington April 28, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Dominion Post/ Kent Blechynden/Pool

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Filming will begin on the long-awaited "Hobbit" movies next month, ending extended delays due to a series of woes including funding problems and a labor dispute which nearly saw the project shifted out of New Zealand.

The two films are being directed by Peter Jackson, 49, who made the hit "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and only last week was released from hospital following emergency surgery for a perforated ulcer.

"Despite some delays we are fully back on track and very excited to get started," Jackson said in a statement.

Filming will begin on March 21 and the movies will be shot at Stone Street Studios in Wellington and on location around New Zealand.

The first of the two movies will be released in December 2012 and the second is expected a year later.

The movies have been beset by a succession of problems, most notably the threat last year by Warner Bros. to move production overseas because of fears unions would impose a boycott to back demands for a collective contract.

The government last year changed labor laws to keep the estimated $500 million production and increased tax breaks for Warner Bros, citing the damage that might be done to the country's small film industry.

Before that, issues around the funding of the films saw original director Guillermo Del Toro quit in 2010.

"The Hobbit" is based on the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who lives in the land of Middle-earth and goes on a quest to find treasure guarded by a dragon.

The book, first published in 1937, is the precursor to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which also takes place in Middle-earth.

The cast for the movies includes Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Ken Stott and Martin Freeman.

(Reporting by Adrian Bathgate; Editing by Elaine Lies)

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