In early December, I had the opportunity to sit down with Peter Jackson, the director of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, as well as members of the cast and crew to discuss their experiences on the much-anticipated film which opens nationwide December 14.

My father once told me that The Hobbit was the fairytale Tolkien wrote while composing his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. Having now seen the first (of three films) installment of Tolkien’s prequel, I believe my father’s statement was correct, but in the best way possible. Jackson's The Hobbit is what J.R.R. Tolkien’s plucky hero, Bilbo Baggins, has always claimed it to be: a great and wonderful adventure.

Like The Fellowship of the Ring, this story begins in the Shire, where a younger Bilbo Baggins (played here by Martin Freeman) is enjoying a quiet, uneventful life until the arrival of the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Suddenly, Bilbo finds his peaceful home thrown into utter chaos as one dwarf after another arrives to eat, sing, and plan for the journey of a lifetime.

Led by the exiled prince, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the dwarves prepare to set out toward the Lonely Mountain, the heart of their ancient kingdom and the dwelling place of the dread dragon Smaug. Long ago, the dragon invaded the dwarven kingdom and drove the inhabitants from their home, claiming their treasure for his own. Now, after many years, the dwarves believe the time has come to confront Smaug and reclaim their lost gold. Though he initially rejects Thorin’s offer to join their company, Bilbo begins to understand there is more to life than his small home in the Shire. With this newfound realization, Bilbo takes a leap of faith and becomes the fourteenth member of the expedition.

However, more is going on in the corners of Middle Earth than Bilbo and his company realize. Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), one of Gandalf’s fellow wizards, has uncovered a dark power hiding in the ruins of Dol Guldur. The free peoples of the world convene The White Council, hoping to drive the evil figure from the land. All the while, Thorin finds himself being hunted by an enemy from his past...

It's against this backdrop that we were privileged to ask this talented cast and crew about everything from the creative process to J.R.R. Tolkien and the themes he utilized to bring to life the beloved story of Bilbo Baggins...

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With The Lord of the Rings, you had three books to draw content from. The Hobbit is a slender children’s story; what made you turn it into a trilogy?

Peter Jackson: That’s a very good question. It surprised us a bit too because we were originally planning on doing only two films, but it really became a question of “What do you leave out?” The Hobbit is a very misleading book because it’s written at a very breathless pace; huge events in the story are covered in only two or three pages. So once we started to develop the scenes, do a little character development, plus adapt the appendices from The Return of the King with events that happened around the time of The Hobbit, we had more than enough content to pull it off.

Philippa Boyens: I think if we hadn’t made The Lord of the Rings movies first this would be a very different story, but we had, and we realized the Gandalf of The Lord of the Rings is not the same Gandalf in The Hobbit, and we really wanted to tell that part of the story. It’s easy to forget the depth that is in this children’s book at the end - the story doesn’t conclude with the defeat of Smaug like you would expect - and children love that because it takes you further than you expected. The process also allowed us to bring back great characters like Saruman, and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, as well as create an emotional background for characters like Thorin.