Stars Return to Middle-earth for 'The Hobbit'

Stars Return to Middle-earth for 'The Hobbit'

Are you ready to return to Middle-earth? Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is coming to theaters and IMAX everywhere in 3D on December 14, and the extensive cast of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and Wizards features a pleasant mixture of new and returning faces to new, first installment of the growing, six-movie franchise.

Video: An Unexpected Journey to the NZ 'Hobbit' Premiere

"It's been 10 years since Lord of the Rings and we had no interest in making a sequel," says Peter Jackson about the new movie, which serves as a prequel to Rings. "But fortunately J.R.R. Tolkien had written this incredibly charming children's fairytale. … It's a much more charming, humorous story, and that was really the attraction for us -- the fact that we were able to go back and be the same storytellers, the same filmmakers, going back into Middle-earth again, but following a different story with a different group of characters largely. And a different tone – a lot more humor."

The long-awaited big-screen adaptation follows the adventures of the diminutive Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman) as he journeys with a group of 13 Dwarves to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. On the way, they must battle treacherous Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and sly Sorcerers. And when Bilbo gains possession of Gollum's (the returning Andy Serkis) "preciousss" ring, the fate of Middle-earth hangs in the balance.

"We've seen Bilbo already with the brilliant Ian Holm, and [in this movie] you start with the younger Bilbo. Suddenly it's the beginning of his journey, and it's the classic sequel," explains Martin Freeman, who adds that the newcomers to the franchise were welcomed with open arms by the family-like cast and crew: "We were made to feel like we had every right to be there, and we were well looked after."

Richard Armitage, who plays exiled Dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield, says, "I do think Peter has done something really interesting by kind of connecting the blood flow from the Rings trilogy into The Hobbit, very much in the prologue and all of the other characters that sort of link the two films together, and that has given it some sort of oxygen that fans will really enjoy."

Video: Precious Gollum Moments in New 'Hobbit' Trailer

Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Elijah Wood never imagined that they would return to Middle-earth to put on Hobbit feet and pointy Elven ears, and Elijah says, "The whole notion of coming back, it was a gift. It isn't something that any of us really expected. … It was an amazing experience."

And how different is Gollum this time around? "Well, he's 60 years younger, so he's only 540, and I think pretty sexy," jokes Serkis, who also served on The Hobbit as second-unit director: "It was doubly thrilling," he said of the unexpected offer from Jackson, joking of the opportunity, "He's known I've wanted to direct for a long time, and so it was really like being given a Maserati when you haven't passed your driving test. … It was a fantastic experience and hugely challenging."

The epic film also features returning The Lord of the Rings cast members Ian McKellen, Ian Holm and Christopher Lee alongside new faces Manu Bennett, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Barry Humphries, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher, Sylvester McCoy, Bret McKenzie, Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, Dean O'Gorman, Conan Stevens, Ken Stott and Aidan Turner.

Pics: 'The Hobbit' Photo Exclusive

So why will The Lord of the Rings fans love The Hobbit? "Because they'll be totally surprised by it," says Weaving, who especially loves the scene in which the Dwarves sing. "It was transporting … and moving." Cate agrees, "I found it really rich and surprising," pointing out that she's "really cool this month" to her three boys!