MGM and New Line have signed Guillermo del Toro finally to direct two films for the Lord of the Rings franchise.

Namely, the highly anticipated “Hobbit”, as well as a LOTR “prequel” of sorts, one that will fill in the gaps between “The Hobbit” and Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Jackson will serve as executive producer on the projects.

Since Jackson did not wish to return to the director’s chair, del Toro is a nice choice. He’s a great director with spectacular vision. But, most importantly, he’s a huge fan of the material.

Personally, I would rather have seen “The Hobbit” turned into two films than the current plan of action. There is a LOT that goes on in that book that would be wonderfully served by two films. Still, I won’t complain too much…

With the all-important task of finding a director complete, now comes the equally daunting task of casting the epic first film.

Here are my thoughts on possible choices for the roles.

Bilbo Baggins – Ian Holm is simply too old to pull this off like he did in the short LOTR flashback. Another actor must be found, but one that can really pull off that whining factor. Remember in the original tale, Bilbo is a constant whiner and complainer, to a fault. That kind of acting needs a comedic hand. So, why not go with Ricky Gervais? He’s the best British comedic actor out there. He doesn’t resemble Ian Holm, but we’ll forgive that easily when we see him bitching about elevenses on the trail with the dwarves. Other possibilities – Elijah Wood (probably the popular choice, but I don’t think so…let his Frodo performance stand alone), Eddie Izzard, Simon Pegg (a dark horse choice; he’d be a GREAT pick for the role, but he might be too tied up with the new Star Trek franchise to be available (he plays Scotty in the new film)).

Ricky Gervais

Elijah Wood

Eddie Izzard

Simon Pegg

Gandalf – Ian McKellan. No-brainer. He’s all but come out (no pun intended) and said that he’s been signed to do it.

Thorin (leader of the dwarves) – John Rhys-Davies would be a nice choice (but he may be reluctant to return to that makeup he became so allergic to). Other than him, I’m really drawing a blank…I’ll think more on this one and update. UPDATE: If you don’t use Beorn in the film, use Brendan Gleeson here. He’d be excellent in this role as well.

John Rhys-Davies

Brendan Gleeson

Elrond (King of the Elves) – Hugo Weaving. Another no-brainer.

Beorn – This encounter with the shape shifter by Bilbo and the dwarves will more than likely be cut, especially considering the plot will be condensed into one film. Still, a guy can dream, can’t he? My pick would be Brendan Gleeson (aka “Mad-Eye” Moody).

Bard the Bowman from Lake Town – Strong rugged, trustworthy type. Christian Bale could do well here, as could Hugh Jackman, pick a 30-40 something actor (British or no).

Christian Bale

Hugh Jackman

Another good choice would be Gerard Butler (see picture below).

Gollum – Andy Serkis IS Gollum! Next!!!

Smaug the Dragon – Now HERE’S where it gets interesting…Smaug is present for only a short part of the story, but his presence is pivotal. Since he will obviously be CGI, you gotta find a VOICE. So, I’ve itemized a list for you.

Hugo Weaving
Hugo Weaving – He’d do a great job, no doubt. Problem is, his voice has become almost TOO recognizable. That, and he’s already performing as Elrond in the film (another short role) would probably preclude him from doing it, though he’d undoubtedly be a fan favorite.

Ron Perlman
Ron Perlman (aka “Hellboy”) – Ron’s got an excellent voice for this role. Deep, powerful, but with an edge that can do the comedic elements of it as well. Plus, he’s obviously got a great working relationship with del Toro throught the “Hellboy” franchise, so he might be the early favorite to land the role.

Gerard Butler
Gerard Butler (from “300”) – He spent most of “300” yelling, but in the quiet moments, you could hear a lot of power in that voice. He’s a possibility.

and my dark horse would be…..

Alan Rickman
Alan Rickman. He could seriously be the best choice out there. If you’ve read the book, you know that Smaug plays mind games with Bilbo for the most part, only exploding in anger at the very end. No voice would better encapsulate those mind games better than Rickman. He would be my #1 choice.

Other roles needing to be filled…Orc King, King of the Wood Elves, Lord of the Eagles, Spider Queen, the three Trolls,

What are your thoughts? Let’s get this thing going?