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LOS ANGELES - Sir Ian McKellen, who played the wizard Gandalf in the smash hit Lord of the Rings movies, said today he is sad that Kiwi director Peter Jackson may not make a film based on author J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit.

"I'm very sad as I should have relished revisiting middle Earth with Peter again as team-leader. It's hard to imagine any other director matching his achievement in Tolkien country," McKellen wrote in a posting on his website, mckellen.com.

Jackson wrote to fan website theonering.net this week and said New Line Cinema, the Hollywood movie studio that backed the Rings films, had decided to move forward on The Hobbit without him. Fans had expected Jackson would direct The Hobbit because of the Rings films' success.

Jackson said he and his production company, New Zealand's Wingnut Films, have refused to discuss a Hobbit movie because they are currently embroiled in a lawsuit with New Line over 2001's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

A New Line spokeswoman declined to comment on Jackson's letter, citing company policy.

The Rings movies raked in nearly US$3 billion in worldwide ticket revenues. The trilogy includes 2002's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and one year later, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which won 11 Oscars including best picture and best director for Jackson.

Fans have called for a boycott of New Line's movies and are signing a petition telling the studio to resolve matters with Jackson. The operators of theonering.net have listed names and addresses of executives at New Line and its parent, Time Warner Inc, to whom to write.

McKellen's Gandalf is a key role in the trilogy and the 67-year-old actor, for one, is hopeful things will work out.

"We will have to await developments but being an optimist I am hoping that New Line, MGM and Wingnut can settle outstanding problems so that the long expected Hobbit is filmed sooner rather than later," McKellen wrote.

Film studio MGM, along with New Line, owns some rights to a Hobbit film.

- REUTERS