These are dark times indeed in Middle Earth, the enchanted realm of author J.R.R. Tolkein.

Director Guillermo del Toro is withdrawing from The Hobbit, the two-film prequel to The Lord of the Rings. On the project website TheOneRing.net, the Mexican director of Pan's Labyrinth called his departure "the hardest decision of my life" but said he could no longer abide "ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming."

Peter Jackson, the producer of the films, said in a joint statement, "The bottom line is that Guillermo just didn't feel he could commit six years to living in New Zealand, exclusively making these films, when his original commitment was for three years."

Speculation about who would replace del Toro began immediately, the early front-runners being Jackson himself and Sam Raimi, who spun the big-screen Spider-Man webs.

Financial battles at MGM studio are cited as the cause for The Hobbit's extended delays. But we blame Lord Sauron.

Two times blessed

On her 2004 album Miracle, Canadian songbird Celine Dion recorded a song called "A Mother's Prayer."

Well, that prayer has just been answered. Munificently. Over the holiday weekend, Dion's publicist, Kim Jakwerth, notified the Associated Press that the singer, 42, is carrying twins.

Dion is 14 weeks pregnant and plans to determine the sex of the babies this month. She had undergone five in-vitro fertilization procedures before this one succeeded.

"I feel like I've been pregnant more than a year," Dion told a Montreal paper. "I never gave up. But I can tell you that it was physically and emotionally exhausting."

The performer and her manager/hubby Rene Angelil have a 9-year-old son, Rene Charles.

Looks as if the kids will be raised in the salutary environment of Las Vegas. Dion returns to Sin City in 2011 for a three-year residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

Where will he turn up next?

Who will replace Simon Cowell on American Idol? Well, Bret Michaels has thrown his hat in the ring.

At a concert in Biloxi, Miss., over the weekend, the reality TV star and recent winner of Celebrity Apprentice told the audience that he could be sitting next to Kara DioGuardi next year.

In a postshow interview, Michaels, 47, explained why he's the perfect candidate.

"I'm talking old-school, paying-my-dues experience," said the former frontman for the hair-metal band Poison. "I used to move the pool table out of the way to play for people six nights a week, playing five sets a night, where I had to announce the dinner special. I grew up the old-fashioned way. I would have done anything to have a platform like American Idol when I was growing up.

"For a lot of these young musicians, I'd be able to give them incredibly awesome and very, very real advice," he added.

Despite dealing with serious health issues - a brain hemorrhage and subsequent stroke - Michaels made a surprise appearance on the American Idol finale, singing "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" with top-three finisher Casey James.

Rock on, bud.

Haggling over the estate

Looks like the marital problems of Dennis Hopper didn't end with his death over the weekend.

Gossip aggregator TMZ reports that his wife, Victoria Duffy, whom Hopper had been trying to divorce at the time of his death, is planning to fight their prenuptial agreement.

In March, three months after filing for divorce, Hopper charged in court that Duffy stole "valuable works of art" from him, including a portrait that Andy Warhol had painted of the Easy Rider star.

Hopper claimed that Duffy "surreptitiously removed from my home very valuable personal property while I was extremely ill, refused to tell me where the property was when I asked her, and then left town."

Hopper, who succumbed after a long battle with cancer, had sought to deny his estranged wife the 25 percent of his estate and $250,000 in life insurance money stipulated in their prenup.

Let the lawyers fight it out.

It's all a little hazy

Guilty. With an explanation.

In her interview with Oprah Tuesday, Sarah Ferguson says she's avoiding the sting video of herself accepting $40,000 in exchange for promised favors from her ex-husband, Prince Andrew. That's because she doesn't want to see herself tipsy.

"I haven't faced the devil in the face because I was in the gutter at that moment," she tells Oprah. "So I'm aware of the fact that I've been drinking, you know, that I was not in my right place."

Well played, Duchess. It's an old alibi, but a reliable one.

Contact "SideShow" at sideshow@phillynews.com. This article contains information from Inquirer wire services.