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OTRC: 'The Hobbit: There and Back Again' release date announced

L-R: James Nesbitt as Bofur, Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins (front), Stephen Hunter as Bombur, Graham McTavish as Dwalin, William Kircher as Bifur and Jed Brophy as Nori in New Line Cinema's and MGM's fantasy adventure 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,' a 2012 Warner Bros. Pictures release. It is the first of a three-part prequel to the hit 'Lord of the Rings' franchise. (James Fisher / Warner Bros. Pictures)

The release date for the third and final film in Peter Jackson's "Hobbit" was announced by Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures on August 31.

Unlike the first two films in "The Hobbit" trilogy, which will open during the winter holiday season, "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" is slated to open in theaters during the summer, on July 18, 2014.

The first film in the new franchise, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is slated for release on December 14, 2012. The title of the third film was originally attached to the sequel, which received the new moniker, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." The second film is scheduled to hit theaters on December 13, 2013, only seven months before the third film's release date.

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.

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.

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