The trailer for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first part of the prequel to the "Lord of the Rings" films, was recently released.
The fantasy sagas are based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien. "The Hobbit," shot in 3D, depicts the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman. The character is the uncle of "Lord of the Rings" hero Frodo, who was played by Elijah Wood. In "The Hobbit," the older Baggins teams up with the wizard Gandalf and a group of dwarves on a quest to find a treasure guarded by a dragon.
The prequel also explains how Frodo obtained the magic ring that drives the plot of the "Lord of the Rings." Peter Jackson directed the film trilogy as well as both "Hobbit" films.
Wood reprises his role in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which is set for release on Dec. 14, 2012, and in the second installment, "The Hobbit: There and Back Again," which hits theaters in 2013.
Other returning "Lord of the Rings" actors include Orlando Bloom, who plays Legolas the elf, Ian McKellen, who plays the wizard Gandalf and Andy Serkis, who portrays animated villain Gollum, also known as Smeagol.
Evangeline Lilly of "LOST" fame will play a new character, the Woodland Elf, Tauriel. Jackson had said on his Facebook page in June, adding: "Her name means 'daughter of Mirkwood' and, beyond that, we must leave you guessing! (No, there is no romantic connection to Legolas)."
The dwarves are played by actors such as James Nesbitt, Graham McTavish, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher and Jed Brophy. Benedict Cumberbatch, recently seen in the films "War Horse" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," portrays Smaug the dragon.
Wood told OnTheRedCarpet.com in November that the two "Hobbit" films will be "fantastic," thanks to the innovative 3D animation techniques director Peter Jackson is using.
James Cameron wowed moviegoers with the use of such technology in the 2009 film "Avatar," the most successful movie of all time. Since then, more 3D versions of films have been released but have not showcased the same level of visual effects.
Jackson explained his 3D shooting techniques in a video posted on his Facebook page earlier this month.
"Shooting 'The Hobbit' in 3D is a dream come true," he said. "If I had the ability to shoot 'The Lord of the Rings' in 3D, I certainly would have done it. What I actually did on 'The Lord of the Rings' is I had a 3D camera taking 3D photographs. Hopefully, one day, maybe even on 3D Blu-ray, we might be able to actually show you some of the 3D photos from 10 or 12 years ago."
Production on "The Hobbit" movies began in March in New Zealand, where "The Lord of the Rings" was filmed, after a series of setbacks, such as the threat of an acting union strike and Jackson's stomach surgery.