The Hobbit's running time revealed

The first in Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth will be suitably lengthy, but is the source material enough for an epic trilogy?

Peter Jackson's first installment of his Hobbit trilogy will run at a decidedly epic two hours and 40 minutes, it has been revealed.

But even at such a sturdy length 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' is still the shortest of the director's Middle Earth-based films.

[Related story: New Zealand city renamed to celebrate Hobbit premiere]
[Related story: Ian McKellen almost turned down Gandalf]

The Hobbit... set for an epic running time (Copyright: Rex)

Jackson told Empire magazine that there are still credits and some special effects shots unaccounted for in the run time, but it should end up around the 160 minute mark.

The news suggests that the forthcoming film's running times could increase as he finishes each part, as with his sprawling 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy.

Once finished, 'The Fellowship of the Ring' ran to 178 minutes, 179 minutes for 'The Two Towers' and a whopping 201 minutes for 'The Return of the King', a little shy of 10 hours in all.

But following Jackson's announcement over the summer that he would be making three and not the originally planned two films, there has been concern among Tolkien fans that the source material is not enough to span a trilogy.

Depending on the edition, 'The Hobbit' has between 297 and 320 pages, compared with over 1000 pages in the three 'Lord of the Rings' books combined.

However, some fans argue that while the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy left much out, it's hoped that there will be enough material to spin out three films.

The final film, though not planned to be a bridge between 'The Hobbit' and 'Lord of the Rings', will use appendices published in 'Return of the King' as additional source material, while Tolkien fansites lit up when the trailer for the film appeared to show an 'added scene' between Gandalf and Galadriel.

But one area the film won't touch upon is Tolkien's 'The Silmarillion' works, published after his death by his son Christopher, which expand upon the world of 'The Hobbit' and 'Lord of the Rings'.

Christopher Tolkien is no friend of Jackson's adaptations of his father's books, saying during an interview that 'they eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people 15 to 25'.

Tolkien Jr, the director of the Tolkien Estate, also fought to have 'The Hobbit' shut down over claims 'Lord of the Rings' studio New Line Cinema owed royalties.

Whatever the issues, 'An Unexpected Journey' is set for release on December 13.

It stars Martin Freeman as the travelling hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellen reprising his role as wizard Gandalf The Grey, Richard Armitage as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield and Andy Serkis as Gollum.

There are also roles for Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Fry, Billy Connolly, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Elijah Wood and Sylvester McCoy.