I’ve been dragging my feet on reporting this, but since I’ve gotten dozens of emails asking about it, here you go:

The One Ring is reporting that Neill Blomkamp, director District 9 and Peter Jackson protege, is the latest guy in the running to direct The Hobbit.

It makes plenty of sense, and I’m sure that there have been meetings about it. I’m sure Neill and Peter have talked about it and there’s interest from both of them. But here’s the thing:

This movie isn’t happening anytime soon.

The Hobbit can’t go ahead until MGM’s fiscal disaster is dealt with, and that process has been taking forever. It’s like watching a loved one die of a particularly slow form of cancer. As for how serious the situation is, remember that the James Bond franchise has been put on hold. Think about it – nobody’s even bothering to develop the next James Bond movie, The Hobbit is also going nowhere fast.

Again, I don’t doubt that Blomkamp is talking to Jackson et al about – I know that there were auditions for Bilbo in LA this week. But I think this is all busy work that’s happening to keep the wheels greased; the Bilbo audition tapes will go in a file so that whoever ends up directing will have them on hand when the green light turns on. And Jackson is trying to keep a director attached so that he has somebody in the driver’s seat whenever the film goes, instead of having to waste more time searching.

But how long can Blomkamp wait? IMDB Pro has an old listing for Untitled Neill Blomkamp Project that’s supposed to be in production by about now. He’s got no follow-up to District 9 on the immediate horizon. I would bet The Hobbit doesn’t start until late 2011 – if it ever even starts at all (right now I’m feeling cynical about it. There’s money already accruing against it, and if the costs are too high by the time the MGM solution happens, nobody’s going to want to pile 200 million more on top of that).

So yeah, right now Neill Blomkamp is on the short list. But it’s a long wait for that list.