Pulling the rug from under the feet of those looking forward to the two film, big screen adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit tonight is the news that co-writer Guillermo Del Toro will not be directing the films.

Many fans of Jackson’s work with The Lord of the Rings were overjoyed to hear that Del Toro had agreed to co-write and direct the films, and with Jackson and his team in a scriptwriting and Exec Producing capacity we were promised the best of both world – Del Toro’s visual imagination and Jackson’s proven capability with the material.

Sadly though it was not to be. Del Toro and Jackson broke the unexpected news to the epic Tolkien fansite TheOneRing,

In light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming “The Hobbit,” I am faced with the hardest decision of my life…After nearly two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures.

The blessings have been plenty, but the mounting pressures of conflicting schedules have overwhelmed the time slot originally allocated for the project. Both as a co-writer and as a director, I wlsh the production nothing but the very best of luck and I will be first in line to see the finished product. I remain an ally to it and its makers, present and future, and fully support a smooth transition to a new director”.

Jackson echoed the sentiments,

We feel very sad to see Guillermo leave the Hobbit, but he has kept us fully in the loop and we understand how the protracted development time on these two films, due to reasons beyond anyone’s control – has compromised his commitment to other long term projects…The bottom line is that Guillermo just didn’t feel he could commit six years to living in New Zealand, exclusively making these films, when his original commitment was for three years.

[O]ur writing partnership will continue for several more months, until the scripts are fine tuned and polished…New Line and Warner Bros will sit down with us this week, to ensure a smooth and uneventful transition, as we secure a new director for the Hobbit. We do not anticipate any delay or disruption to ongoing pre-production work.

The sound which followed was that of thousands of jaws and smiles dropping at this news, while there were recent reports that the project was still stuck in the quagmire of MGM’s fallout and no greenlight had been passed into production there was an overwhelming feeling that production on The Hobbit was a certainty, and with Del Toro at the helm.

So, the search for a new director is on, and while Del Toro’s hand will still be felt in the work on the design and development he has already undertaken there’s a part of me that would love to have seen his take on this classic.