By Josh Rottenberg
Updated July 24, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT

Earlier this month, director Peter Jackson teased the crowd at Comic-Con with the news that he was interested in shooting additional material beyond his planned two-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic The Hobbit. “There’s other parts of the story that we’d like to tell that we haven’t been able to tell yet,” he said. But as to the question of whether that extra footage could potentially translate into an actual third Hobbit film, Jackson wouldn’t go that far. “It’s very premature,” he said. “The discussions are pretty early.”

Well, it may still be early, but EW has confirmed that serious discussions between Jackson and Warner Bros. are indeed taking place to explore the possibility of turning The Hobbit into a trilogy. Before you get too excited, though, there are several major hurdles that would need to be cleared before this could become a reality: Among other things, new deals would need to be worked out with the cast, and it’s quite likely that Jackson — who had already scheduled two months of additional shooting on the second film for next year before these talks began — would need to add even more time to shoot additional material to fill out a third film.

As for where that material might come from, Jackson and his co-writers, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, are already drawing on sources beyond The Hobbit book itself — in particular, some 125 pages of additional notes Tolkien wrote at the end of Return of the King that expanded the world of The Hobbit, which Jackson has the rights to use. As Tolkien purists know, they’ve also taken a few extra liberties, inventing a couple of totally new characters, like Evangeline Lilly’s Elf warrior Tauriel. But Jackson has not yet revealed — and is perhaps still trying to work out — exactly what shape the story would take if, in fact, The Hobbit became a trilogy. Would the climactic Battle of the Five Armies that ends The Hobbit shift to become the basis of a third film? Would a third film extend the story beyond the end of the book somehow and serve as a kind of bridge to The Fellowship of the Ring?

For now, it’s anyone’s guess, and we’ll need to wait to see how things develop. The first Hobbit film, subtitled An Unexpected Journey, hits theaters Dec. 14, and the second, There and Back Again, is slated for Dec. 13, 2013 — and, assuming they’re as successful as many anticipate they’ll be, Warner Bros. would certainly be happy to see the franchise continue on. Not to mention that, for millions of Lord of the Rings fans around the world, the prospect of another Middle-earth trilogy would have a nice, familiar ring to it.

Read more:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

  • Movie
  • 170 minutes
  • Peter Jackson