Director Peter Jackson has confirmed that his adaptation of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, originally planned for two films, will extended into a trilogy.
As he proved with his epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson has never been a filmmaker who rushes a story, but his announcement on Facebook will surprise many audiences who already thought The Hobbit too slight a volume even for two films.
The first part, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and sees the return of Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett. It will hit screens on 14 December.
Part 2, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, will be released one year later. On that schedule, a third part would be expected in 2014.
"It is only at the end of a shoot that you finally get the chance to sit down and have a look at the film you have made. Fran [Walsh, writer] and Phil [Boyens, writer] and I did this when we watched for the first time an early cut of the first movie - and a large chunk of the second," Jackson wrote.
Tell more of the tale?
"We were really pleased with the way the story was coming together, in particular, the strength of the characters and the cast who have brought them to life.
"All of which gave rise to a simple question: do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers and as fans, was an unreserved 'yes'.
"We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance.
"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, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle Earth.
"So without further ado and on behalf of New Line Cinema, Warner Bros Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Wingnut Films, and the entire cast and crew of The Hobbit films, I'd like to announce that two films will become three.
"It has been an unexpected journey indeed, and in the words of Professor Tolkien himself, 'a tale that grew in the telling'."
Jackson's comments suggest that the meat of the Hobbit's plot will be found within the first two films, while the last section will fill in the gaps leading in to Lord of the Rings.
Fans of Tolkien familiar with his Silmarillion will know the wealth of stories that remain untapped, so Jackson will have no shortage of material. It will be interesting to see which direction he takes the film, or whether he is simply lost in Middle Earth.