Director Peter Jackson announced on July 30 that "The Hobbit" will be released as a trilogy, rather than just two films.
"Upon recently viewing a cut of the first film, and a chunk of the second, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and I were very pleased with the way the story was coming together," Jackson said in a statement. "We recognized that the richness of the story of 'The Hobbit,' as well as some of the related material in the appendices of 'The Lord of the Rings,' gave rise to a simple question: do we tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as filmmakers and fans was an unreserved 'yes.'"
"We know the strength of our cast and of the characters they have brought to life. We know creatively how compelling and engaging the story can be and -lastly, and most importantly - we know how much of the tale of Bilbo Baggins, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur would remain untold if we did not fully realize this complex and wonderful adventure," Jackson continued. "I'm delighted that New Line, MGM and Warner Bros. are equally enthusiastic about bringing fans this expansive tale across three films."
It was previously announced that the series would be released in two films - "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which is set for release on Dec. 14, 2012 and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again," which hits theaters on December 13, 2013. The third film will now be released in the summer of 2014.
The fantasy sagas are based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien. "The Hobbit," shot in 3D, depicts the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman. The character is the uncle of "Lord of the Rings" hero Frodo, who was played by Elijah Wood. In "The Hobbit," the older Baggins teams up with the wizard Gandalf and a group of dwarves on a quest to find a treasure guarded by a dragon.
The prequel also explains how Frodo obtained the magic ring that drives the plot of the "Lord of the Rings," which is set in Middle-earth, 60-years after "The Hobbit" takes place.
Production on "The Hobbit" movies began in March 2011 in New Zealand, where "The Lord of the Rings" was filmed, after a series of setbacks, such as the threat of an acting union strike and Jackson's stomach surgery. Principal photography was recently wrapped on what Jackson planned would be a two-film adaptation of "The Hobbit."
The screenplay for the films was written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro. All three films are being shot by Jackson in digital 3D, using the latest technological innovations.
Jackson explained his 3D shooting techniques in a video posted on his Facebook page in December.
"Shooting 'The Hobbit' in 3D is a dream come true," he said. "If I had the ability to shoot 'The Lord of the Rings' in 3D, I certainly would have done it. What I actually did on 'The Lord of the Rings' is I had a 3D camera taking 3D photographs. Hopefully, one day, maybe even on 3D Blu-ray, we might be able to actually show you some of the 3D photos from 10 or 12 years ago."
In addition to Wood and Freeman, "The Hobbit" will see the return of several "Lord of the Rings" actors and will introduce several new characters.
Returning "Lord of the Rings" actors include Orlando Bloom, who plays Legolas the elf, Ian McKellen, who plays the wizard Gandalf and Andy Serkis, who portrayed animated villain Gollum, also known as Smeagol. Cate Blanchett also reprises her role of the elf Galadriel.
Evangeline Lilly of "LOST" fame will play a new character, the Woodland Elf, Tauriel. Jackson had said on his Facebook page in June, adding: "Her name means 'daughter of Mirkwood' and, beyond that, we must leave you guessing! (No, there is no romantic connection to Legolas)."
The Dwarves of Erebor are played by actors such as James Nesbitt, Graham McTavish, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher and Jed Brophy. Benedict Cumberbatch, recently seen in the films "War Horse" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," portrays Smaug the dragon.
The first installment of the trilogy, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," is slated for release on December 14, 2012. Watch a trailer below.