Earlier this month, principal filming on "The Hobbit," the long-awaited prequel to the blockbuster "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, wrapped up in glorious New Zealand. 


"We made it!" Director Peter Jackson exclaimed in a post on Facebook. "Shoot day 266 and the end of principal photography on The Hobbit. Thanks to our fantastic cast and crew for getting us this far, and to all of you for your support!"


A few weeks later at Comic-Con, however, Jackson hinted that things may not actually be as finished as assumed — telling the crowd that while discussions with Warner Bros. were still "premature," the possibility of a third film was very real. 


“There’s other parts of the story that we’d like to tell that we haven’t been able to tell yet,” he said. 


Today, it became official. Instead of being a two-part film, "The Hobbit" will now span three movies. In a statement on Facebook, Jackson explained the unusual move. 


“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,” Jackson wrote. “Recently Fran, Phil, and I did just this when we watched for the first time an early cut of the first movie — and a large chunk of the second. 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.’”


To be sure, there are only a handful of directors in Hollywood who could seriously approach a studio this late in the game and decide to change the layout of such a massive series of films. It also helped Jackson's situation that Warner Bros. no longer has either "Harry Potter" or Nolan's "Batman" films to pad the budget. The studio likely did not have to think long about greenlighting a third, and probably very lucrative, addition to the Tolkien universe. 


The questions is will Jackson have enough story to draw upon to flesh out a third film? The answer apparently lies in the 125 pages of additional notes Tolkien wrote at the end of "The Lord of the Rings."


“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,” Jackson wrote. “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.”


Look for this third "Hobbit" film to hit sometime in 2014.


Related animal story on MNN: Scientists discover a giant stork that ate hobbits


Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

'The Hobbit' is now a trilogy
Director Peter Jackson announces the surprise move to add a third 'Hobbit' film to better tell the classic tale.