The Hobbit
The Hobbit Warner Brothers

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" chronicles the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor by defeating the evil dragon Smaug. With the help of Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Bilbo and 13 dwarves journey through obstacle-filled lands that are crawling with mysterious creatures.

Directed by Peter Jackson, the film comes nearly 10 years after the final "Lord of the Rings" film hit theaters. Based on the $3 billion the series grossed from 2001 to 2003, "The Hobbit" is expected to shatter box office records.

Here are five things to know about the highly awaited fantasy epic.

1) "Gateway Drug"

Based on the beloved 1937 novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit" is set 60 years prior to the events in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Described as a "gateway drug to fantasy nerd-dom," the book has sold over 100 million copies and has been translated into 50 languages. The book serves as an introduction to Tolkien's distinct imagination and the whimsical world of Elves, Goblins and Middle-earth.

The book has inspired plays, a musical, radio shows and animated interpretations, but the story has not been adapted for the screen until now.

2) Boot Camp Training

Before filming began, actors playing dwarves, such as Richard Armitage, Dean O'Gorman, and Aiden Turner, trained for their roles in a "dwarf boot camp." It was there that the actors completed weapons training and learned to adjust to the costumes and heavy prosthetics they'd wear during filming. Stunt coordinator Glenn Boswell choreographed much of the film's stunt work while movement coach Terry Notary helped each actor develop the unique physical movements required by ther character.

3) New Technology

Unlike the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Hobbit" was filmed in High Frame Rate 3D, making it the first film to be shot using High Frame Rate Technology as opposed to the traditional 24 frames per second.

The choice to present the film at a higher frame rate has resulted in mixed reactions.

"In the 48-frames-per-second version of 'Hobbit,' Middle-earth in 3D looks so crisp it’s like stepping into the foreground of an insanely gorgeous diorama," Wired's Hugh Hart said.

Others have found fault with the film's presentation.

"The movie's biggest hurdle and the one that's hardest to get past is the decision to shoot the movie in 3D at a higher frame rate of 48 frames per second, twice the normal speed," Edward Douglas of said. "It's an interesting experiment that makes everything look crisp and clear and in some ways it makes everything look real and present, which would generally help the 3D. This cinematography greatly enhances the picturesque New Zealand landscapes…but at the same time, the characters walking across those landscapes look like bad CG."

For those that prefer to stick with the 24 fps or 2D movie going experience, the film is also available in those formats.

4) Not As Dark As The "Rings" Trilogy

"The Hobbit" has a lighter tone than the Lord of the Rings films. The movie has a fairy tale quality that is served by colorful costumes, a bright landscape and the comedic timing of the actors.

“I enjoyed returning to Middle Earth and telling a different story with a lighter tone. I think the fact that there was more comedy in ‘The Hobbit’ made it a very fresh experience,” Jackson told Access Hollywood. “That meant that we had actors like Martin Freeman who are very good at comedy, and there [were] a lot of laughs on set. It made it [easier because] it was a very, very heavy shoot.”

5) The First of Three Films

At 310 pages, "The Hobbit" was initially divided into two films, which cost $500 million to make and were shot over a 266 day period in Wellington, New Zealand. This summer, however, Jackson revealed via Facebook that the film would be released as a trilogy.

"The richness of the story of 'The Hobbit,' as well as some of the related material in the appendices of 'The Lord of the Rings,' allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth," Jackson said.

The announcement sparked controversy as several critics noted that the decision was likely based on box office bank rather than artistic merit.

Brian Solomon of Forbes concluded, "'The Hobbit' As a Trilogy? Hollywood Has Jumped The Shark."

"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" will hit theaters in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" hits theaters on Dec. 14.