Two-part followup to 'The Lord of the Rings' franchise to begin filming in March 2011

After an epic, danger-fraught journey — not unlike the one that brought Frodo Baggins across Middle-earth — director Peter Jackson is finally set to begin filming The Hobbit, the two-part follow-up to his Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings franchise. The director’s production company confirms that the back-to-back films will begin shooting in New Zealand on March 21, putting an end to the delays and false starts that have plagued the project since the Rings series wrapped in 2003. The news comes just days after the latest setback, on Jan. 26, when Jackson was hospitalized with a perforated ulcer that required surgery. ”Despite some unavoidable delays, we are fully back on track and very excited to get started,” said Jackson in a statement on Feb. 7.

Among the people eager for The Hobbit to get under way are returning LOTR cast members Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, and Elijah Wood, along with series newcomer Martin Freeman (Hot Fuzz), who will star as the treasure-hunting hobbit Bilbo Baggins. Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel, The Hobbit‘s screenplay was adapted by Jackson in collaboration with his partner, Fran Walsh, writer Philippa Boyens, and filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.