Del Toro may have been a Late-comer to The Hobbit, but that was due to perhaps some cultural mis-perceptions (believing TH to be a "Kiddie" book). Once immersing himself in the material, I think he realized how perfectly Tolkien's outlook matched his own. He was adamant in interviews about keeping beloved characters like Beorn, and he had that instinctive touch for balancing colourful whimsy and darkness, without succumbing to trivialization or over-weaning sentimentality (you HAVE to see Hellboy 2 and Pan's Labyrinth). He is the only director in a generation that I think could have matched the best of Gilliam.
We can only hope Gilliam signs on
and MGM goes down in flames
, selling the rest of the Rights to New Line and Warner Bros so they can get on with it. GB