LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Lord of the Rings" movie fans were given an early holiday treat this week with the release of a trailer for prequel "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," whetting their appetites a year before the film hits theaters.
"The Hobbit" is the fourth film in director Peter Jackson's box-office hit "Lord of the Rings" film franchise. It explores the journey of hobbit Bilbo Baggins and how he came to possess the ring that he later passed onto his kinsman, Frodo Baggins.
The two and a half-minute trailer shows an elderly Bilbo writing a letter that tells Frodo -- the key character in the "Rings" movies -- about his own adventures. It then flashes back to a younger Bilbo being pushed out of the comfort of the Shire and into a journey across foreign lands guided by the wizard, Gandalf.
The films are based on novelist J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy series "Lord of the Rings," which followed his novel "The Hobbit." To date, the trilogy of "Rings" books has sold more than 150 million copies around the world.
"The Hobbit" will be split into two parts with the first installment due in December 2012 and the second in December 2013. The movies feature "Love Actually" actor Martin Freeman as Bilbo, and see the return of Ian McKellen's Gandalf, Cate Blanchett's elf queen Galadriel and Andy Serkis' Gollum.
The trailer's release roughly coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the first "Rings" movie landing in theaters.
The trailer had critics buzzing on Wednesday, with Time Magazine's Gilbert Cruz saying "Is it possible to feel nostalgia for something that is only a decade old? Of course it is. And that's exactly the feeling one gets from watching this trailer, which throws us right back into Middle-earth."
Fans took to social media sites to express their excitement with most complaining about the long wait until the film's release in December 2012.
Michal Nycz posted on the film's Facebook page: "I am just hypnotized by the music. The song is addictive. The rest is gorgeous. I love it," while Rachel Stark on Twitter wrote "So, so, SO excited about The Hobbit trailer! Thorin singing gives me chills...this seems so much darker than expected."
The full trailer can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM--4UklaL4&
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)