What to Expect When You're Expecting 'The Hobbit'

When it comes to Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, there are two kinds of fans: The ones who have memorized every word of the original novels by J. R. R. Tolkien, gotten Shadowfax tattooed on their butt and named their firstborn Isildur, and the ones who just, you know, thought the movies were cool.

While hardcore fans have already been pouring over the books in order to gain insight into "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" before it opens on Friday, there are a few differences between "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" that may take the rest of you by surprise.

Unless, of course, you check out our handy guide right here.

Yes, that's right: We've put together a primer to help all you casual fans of Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy get ready for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Oh, don't worry, you don't need to know who Denethor's father was or what the Arkenstone is or anything like that in order to enjoy "The Hobbit." But if you have  some idea, generally speaking, of what a hobbit is, we can help get you ready for the new film and make sure you don't go into the theater with the wrong expectations.

There are a few important difference between "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," especially in these areas:

The Hobbit Dwarves: You might have noticed there are some dwarves in the trailer. Like, a whole hell of a lot of them. And that's one of the major differences between "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings." While "The Lord of the Rings" was telling the tale of a coalition of different races working together to save the world, "The Hobbit," despite its title, is a story mainly about dwarves and their quest to reclaim their home. That's not to say there won't be plenty of non-dwarves, because seriously, there are all sorts of weirdos in this film and its two sequels. But the history of the dwarves, the culture of the dwarves and, most importantly, the mindset of the dwarven people — that's the major thrust of the story. So if you liked Gimli, you're really going to love this one.

Dragons: "The Lord of the Rings" novels in many ways created the fantasy genre as we know it, but one area in which it deviated some from its own template was the fact that the bad guy was really just an idea (and, you know, an eyeball) rather than a classic fantasy monster. This time around, though, Bilbo Baggins and his many, many dwarf friends are going to be going up against the coolest, most classic fantasy villain of them all: a dragon. And not the kind your kid trains either; Smaug is pretty much the grandaddy of all fantasy dragons, meaning you won't be just worrying about some metaphorical evil eye looking at you from a million miles away — whoopdedoo — you'll be watching a huge effing dragon burninating the countryside. In 3-D. In other words, expect "The Hobbit" to be a little bit more intense when the action gets going.

The HobbitWizards: If there's one thing we need in our post-"Harry Potter" world, it's more wizards. And thankfully, "The Hobbit" delivers. Sure, there's plenty of Ian McKellen's Gandalf — Gandalf the Grey that is, the younger, pre-"Two Towers" version who is still into smoking ganja and tipping a few back as much as fighting evil — but there's also more of Christopher Lee's Saruman as well. Since this takes place back before he was corrupted by the big eyeball, Saruman will be teaming up with Gandalf and their wizarding buddy Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) to fight the evil sorcerer known as the Necromancer. In other words, if you were wondering where the hell the rest of the wizards were in "The Lord of the Rings," now you'll finally get to see them in action. Face it, Voldemort: You got off easy.

Elves: "The Lord of the Rings" offered up two flavors of elves: Rivendell's ethereal and mostly useless elves (led by Hugo Weaving's Elrond) and the quite xenophobic and equally standoffish elves of Lothlorien's forest (led by Cate Blanchett's Galadriel). At the end, they pretty much all completely gave up and packed it in for a big boat ride to irrelevance (one wee fight in "The Two Towers" notwithstanding). In "The Hobbit" trilogy, though, there's a whole new flavor of elf, namely the Wood Elves and their leader, the prickly Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace). These are the kind of elves you're better off not effing with. Of course, they don't really start throwing their weight around until the second film, but take it from us: When you see some elves in "The Hobbit," don't just assume they're going to be a bunch of pasty pushovers.

Gollums: Gollum throws a huge shadow over "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, as Andy Serkis's groundbreaking performance became a touchstone for both the industry at large and also fans worldwide. Just try and imagine how many times a day someone hisses "my precioussss" at him. The mind boggles. Anyway, thanks to this, it's only natural that Gollum has been getting some major airtime in the trailers. But don't be fooled: While Gollum does play a vital role in a key scene in the story, his part in the overall tale is actually quite brief. If you go into "The Hobbit" expecting to get a bunch of Gollum stuff, you're going to be pretty disappointed. Unless, of course...

The HobbitMysteries: See, here's the thing. "The Lord of the Rings" was three books turned into three movies. "The Hobbit," on the other hand, is one book turned into three movies. So just what is Peter Jackson filling all that extra time with? Some of it he's extrapolating from the text itself, like the previously mentioned battle between the wizards and the Necromancer, which is barely hinted at in the book but which gets the full epic film treatment here. Some of it he's taking out of "The Silmarillion," Tolkien's comprehensive tome of Middle-Earth history. And some of it... well, honestly, he could be adding just about anything.

Which is why even hardcore fans should expect to still be surprised, because the fact is, there's going to be plenty of stuff in "The Hobbit" that even they couldn't have seen coming. After all, "The Hobbit" was written as a children's novel, but Jackson has gone out of his way to make this adaptation as epic — and mature — as his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Whether or not this change in tone is a good thing or a bad thing is beside the point, though, because one thing is certain:

Whatever your expectations, "The Hobbit" is going to blow them away.