On December 14, Peter Jackson makes his fourth cinematic foray into J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of three Hobbit movies planned for release between now and 2014. Does it live up to the standards set by the Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Here, we answer every question that you could possibly have about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Q: What is a Hobbit?
A: A hobbit is a creature that looks like a human, only a little shorter and with bigger feet.
Q: Oh, does Tom Cruise qualify as a Hobbit?
A: Though it's true that Tom Cruise is shorter than the average male person, he's still much taller than a hobbit. Also, according to the Internet, he wears a size-nine shoe, which is perfectly average for a human.
Q: Where did hobbits originate?
A: Hobbits first appeared in J.R.R Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit and returned in his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, published in the mid-1950s.
Q: When does The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey take place?
A: The movie starts on the day of Bilbo Baggins' birthday party, which viewers will recall from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Bilbo (Ian Holm) is writing a letter to Frodo (Elijah Wood) about a past adventure. The rest of the movie consists of a flashback to that adventure.
Q: Really, just how unexpected was this journey, anyway?
A: After the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it wasn't that unexpected that we'd see this journey.
Q: In three parts?
A: OK, yes, that was slightly unexpected.
Q: Wait, is this one with the ring again?
A: Sort of. The ring that we all came to know and love during The Lord of the Ring plays a role in An Unexpected Journey, but not a large role.
Q: Then what is the main adventure in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?
A: It seems that a dragon taking over The Lonely Mountain has left a group of dwarves homeless, because that's where they used to live. The dwarves would like The Lonely Mountain back.
Q: Why don't the dwarves just ask the dragon for their The Lonely Mountain back? Dragons seem so reasonable in Pete's Dragon and in the lyrics of Peter, Paul and Mary songs.
A: Unfortunately, this is not a reasonable dragon, as its name suggests. It's no surprise that dragons named Pete and Puff turned out to be fairly empathetic, but you can't expect to reason with one named Smaug.
Q: How do the dwarves plan on taking back The Lonely Mountain?
A: With the help of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Gandalf, in turn, recruits Bilbo (played in this younger version by Martin Freeman) as a burglar for the group.
Q: A burglar? Oh, I know what a Hobbit is now. Short, with a striped shirt and red tie?
A: You're thinking of the Hamburglar.
Q: I thought The Lonely Mountain was from The Chronicles of Narnia?
A: Now you're thinking of The Lonely Island, who wrote a song about seeing The Chronicles of Narnia on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Q: Should the plot of this movie sound as familiar as it does?
A: It follows the same general outline as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Basically: a group of people walk from one location to another location.
Q: Is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey better than The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring?
Q: What's the difference?
A: Though interesting things happen to the characters of both movies, The Fellowship of the Ring gathers a more interesting collection of personalities.
Q: Does this have anything to do with Orlando Bloom's handsomeness?
A: Orlando Bloom is a very handsome man, but the characters in the earlier series -- men, wizards, elves and dwarves who all bicker -- were more varied than this group, which comprises one hobbit, one wizard and 13 dwarves who all know the same songs.
Q: Thirteen? I have to learn the names of 13 dwarves?
A: Well, not really. Luckily, we are really only introduced to Thorin (Richard Armitage) and a couple of the others in any real way. The rest are treated as background characters.
Q: There is a Gandalf reference in Zero Dark Thirty. Did The Hobbit return the favor with a reference to Zero Dark Thirsty?
Q: Wait, did you just accidentally write "Zero Dark Thirsty" in that last question?
A: I did. And I decided not to correct it because I feel the world would be a better place with a soft drink called Zero Dark Thirsty.
Q: Should I see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?
A: This really depends on how much you enjoyed the three The Lord of the Rings movies. If you didn't like those, you will not like this. If you did like those, you will like this, too, just not quite as much.
Q: Is there a difference in tone between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy?
A: The Hobbit definitely has a lighter tone than The Lord of the Rings -- including a bit more slapstick than we might expect to see in Middle-earth.
Q: What's the best part of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?
A: Anything involving Gollum, who -- especially compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy -- looks like an actual person.
Q: Does this make up a large portion of the story?
A: Unfortunately, no. But the scenes between Bilbo and Gollum seem like they are straight out of the The Lord of the Rings.
Q: What about this 48-frames-per-second format? Should I see it in that or the standard 24-frames-per-second rate?
A: This has been covered in-depth elsewhere. But, briefly, if you are interested in new technology -- even one that looks weird -- see the movie in 48. If you just want to embark on a new adventure in Middle-earth without distractions, see it in 24.
Q: Would any other movies benefit from a modified frame rate?
A: Yes. For instance, a movie like Alex Cross would have benefited from a rate of zero frames per second.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.
This appears in our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store. This story appears in Issue 27, available Friday, Dec. 14.