There and back again: 'The Hobbit' debuts

photo Kerys Dolan, Jeff Hickey and Mark Green, from left, pose in costume at Heritage Park on Thursday. The three will be dressing up as characters from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy for the midnight showing of "The Hobbit" at the Rave theater tonight.

TOLKIEN TIMELINE* Jan. 3, 1892 -- J.R.R. Tolkien is born.* 1932 -- Tolkien finishes his manuscript for "The Hobbit, or There and Back Again."* Sept. 21, 1937 -- "The Hobbit" publishes with an initial run of 1,500 copies to overwhelmingly positive critical response.* 1937-1949 -- Tolkien works in stages on a sequel to "The Hobbit" that eventually becomes "The Lord of the Rings."* 1951 -- A second edition of "The Hobbit" publishes with a revised, darker portrayal of the character Gollum.* March 1953 -- An authorized stage adaptation of "The Hobbit" is performed at a school in Edinburgh.* July 1954-October 1955 -- "The Lord of the Rings," originally a single work, is published as three volumes to create a trilogy.* 1966 -- "The Hobbit," a 12-minute animated film, premieres in New York City.* 1968 -- BBC Radio 4 presents "The Hobbit" as an eight-part radio drama.* Sept. 2, 1973 -- Tolkien dies.* 1977 -- A animated television film of "The Hobbit" premieres in the U.S.* 2007 -- Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema reach an agreement to create a two-film, live-action version of "The Hobbit."* 2011 -- Principal photography on "The Hobbit" films begins.* July 2012 -- Jackson confirms "The Hobbit" series will be a trilogy, not two films.* Dec. 14, 2012 -- U.S. premiere of "An Unexpected Journey."* Dec. 13, 2013 -- Slated premiere of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug."* July 18, 2014 -- Slated premiere of "The Hobbit: There and Back Again."BY THE NUMBERS* $2.91 billion -- Global ticket sales of "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy.* $270 million -- Production budget for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."* 726 -- Run time in minutes of "The Lord of the Rings" extended edition trilogy.* 169 -- Run time in minutes of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."* 310 -- Length in pages of the first edition of "The Hobbit."* 663 -- Length in days for the theatrical run of all three "The Lord of the Rings" films.* 6 -- Position of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" on the list of top-grossing films of all timeSources: The Internet Movie Database,, The-Numbers.comTHE 48 QUESTIONSince the 1920s, movies have been filmed and screened at a standard rate of 24 frames per second. "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" was shot at 48 frames per second and will represent a trial run for the new format.In a post to his Facebook profile on April 11, 2011, director Peter Jackson explained the decision. The format, he said, offers "hugely enhanced clarity," "looks more lifelike, and ... is much easier to watch," compared to films shot at 24 frames per second.Many who viewed early 48-frames-per-second footage of the film disagreed. Audience response to a 10-minute preview of the film at CinemaCon in April was mixed, with many suggesting the new format made the film look dreamy and had "that soap opera look you get from badly calibrated TVs at Best Buy," according to one blogger.According to a Los Angeles Times report on Monday, however, only 450 of the 4,000 screens showing the film will be capable of presenting the film in the new format.As of earlier this week, no local theaters planned to present "The Hobbit" in the new format for its premiere today.ABOUT THE FILMRun time: Two hours 49 minutes.Rating: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images.Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving.

At the onset of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit," the beloved solitude of hero Bilbo Baggins is interrupted by the unexpected arrival at his home of a baker's dozen of rambunctious dwarfs.

Despite its title, however, "surprising" is hardly an appropriate description of the lead up to today's release of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Because director Peter Jackson's films presented such a fully realized vision of Tolkien's work, which centers on Bilbo's reluctant journey into adventure, Jeff Hickey, president of the local costuming enthusiast organization Chattooine, said he has been putting in many hours of preparation to dress the part for the premiere.

In anticipation of the film's midnight showing Thursday at Rave Motion Picture East Ridge, Hickey and his fiancee began working in May on costumes as star-crossed lovers Aragorn and Arwin from "The Lord of the Rings."

"['The Hobbit'] is just one of those classical stories," Hickey said. "With Bilbo, he's kind of in his own world, completely isolated from the rest of the world and the world's problems, but he's swept into this adventure, and you're swept in along with him.

"Eventually, he triumphs and comes home changed. That's the way the real world is. It's hard to come home the same person you were."

A live-action adaptation of "The Hobbit" first was announced in 2007, originally as a pair of films and, later, as a trilogy. Fans of Tolkien said they have been feverishly anticipating the premiere today of "Unexpected Journey," even though they are confused by director Peter Jackson's decision to turn the 300-page novel into three films.

"I think it could have been done as one nice, long movie," said Robby Hilliard, 37, a Tolkien fan and literary programming director for the local fandom convention Con Nooga.

"There is, of course, the obvious, real-world suggestion that comes to mind that, 'Oh, well, you make more money that way,'" he added, "[but] I'll absolutely see all three movies."

When it was first published on Sept. 21, 1937, "The Hobbit" became an instant success. It since has been recognized as a pillar of children's literature and a pioneering book in the genre of high fantasy fiction.

Tolkien's tale of a reclusive hobbit drawn into an adventure against his will and changed by his experiences captivated readers and critics alike. In her 1937 review of the novel, The New York Times' Anne E. Eaton described Tolkien's work as "a glorious account of a magnificent adventure, filled with suspense and seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible."

The book's most ardent fans said their introductions to "The Hobbit" created a lasting love of reading and, especially, of genre fiction.

"Really, I cannot imagine a time that I was without 'The Hobbit,' " Dr. Charles Sligh, an assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said in an email. "The reader has never ever been to this otherworld, the Shire, but suddenly the enchantment occurs, the spell takes hold, and we've traveled. We're there -- perhaps permanently."

Since its publication in 1937, "The Hobbit" has been reprinted more than three dozen times and has been translated into about 40 languages, including Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Thai and Turkish.

Despite the popularity of his books, many people were introduced to Tolkien's work through Jackson's trilogy of films based on the author's "The Lord of the Rings" novels. The films, which released between 2001 and 2003, grossed about $3 billion worldwide. The final segment, "The Return of the King," won the Oscar as Best Picture, and the series as a whole won 17 of the 30 Oscars for which it was nominated.

Many fans said the most noteworthy feature of both Tolkien's and Jackson's work is in the intricate crafting of a world for readers and viewers to get lost in.

Sligh said Jackson's slavish attention to detail in "The Lord of the Rings" films demonstrated a deep reverence and respect for Tolkien's work. That, he said, was enough to convince him to buy an advance ticket for the opening of "An Unexpected Journey."

"This is a filmmaker who has fallen in love with Tolkien's story, and Jackson clearly wants to share that love and communicate that enchantment with an audience who shares his feeling," Sligh said.