Bilbo Baggins and his fellow furry-footed hobbits return to movie theaters this week with director Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first in a trilogy. But you don't need to wait until then to dive deep into Middle-earth and the fantasy world that author J.R.R. Tolkien created.
With apps, games, ebooks and more, you can reacquaint yourself with Bilbo, Gandalf and Gollum in time for the movie's Dec. 14 release and continue the journey afterwards.
How to get the story
The story of the hobbit began as a children's book, "The Hobbit: There and Back Again," published in 1937. The movies are expected to stay true to the original story, so you can prepare yourself by reading an ebook version. You'll find it in a variety of formats to match your ereader of choice, including Amazon's Kindle. If you use iBooks for iOS devices, look for it in PDF or ePub formats. Or check out the enhanced version for Kindle, which adds illustrations and audio from Tolkien.
Understanding Tolkien's detailed fantasy world can require some effort. The free official iOS app for the movie includes background on the many characters in "The Hobbit" as well as a map of Middle-earth, the fictional world where Tolkien set the story.
If you prefer to listen to the tale, you can find multiple audiobook versions on the iTunes Store, Amazon and other audiobook sources. You can also listen for free on YouTube.
Options to play along
Indulge your inner hobbit and become a part of the action with games tied to the movie's release.
For mobile gamers, Kabam's free, massively multiplayer strategy-action game "The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-Earth," for iOS and Android, lets you destroy goblins as you build up a city.
If you want to dive deeper into the action, try Monolith Games recently released "Guardians of Middle-Earth," a multiple online battle arena (MOBA)-style game for PlayStation 3 and XBOX 360. In a MOBA-style game, you compete as a single character against online opponents in real time. You can wage epic battles playing as Gandalf, Sauron or other characters from Tolkien's books.
What else to watch
"The Hobbit" is the prelude to Tolkien's epic "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. You can stream Peter Jackson's movie adaptations of those tales from Amazon for $2 a movie or from iTunes for $4 each. If you're feeling nostalgic, you can buy a DVD (no Blu-ray) of Rankin/Bass's animated version of "The Hobbit" from 1977, but you won't find a digital version to stream.
In the new movie, Bilbo Baggins is played by Martin Freeman, who also stars as Dr. Watson in the new BBC series "Sherlock." You can check out Freeman's work by streaming the re-imagined Sherlock Holmes story on Amazon and Netflix, among other places.
You'll find plenty of behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube from Peter Jackson. He published videos throughout the process of filming and editing the movies.
Preparing you eyes for High Frame Rate 3D
Director Peter Jackson shot "The Hobbit" in 3D at 48 frames per second, twice the frame rate of typical movies. High frame rate (HFR) films aim to better imitate the smooth motion we see in real life. But some people complain that it looks too real, like a TV newscast. [See also: Cheaper 3D Boasts Titanic Entertainment ]
"The Hobbit" will also appear in standard-frame-rate 2D and 3D, as well as IMAX and IMAX 3D.
Any way you prepare yourself, get ready for a spectacle of the big screen. Hobbits may be small, but these movies won't be.