Watch: First ‘Hobbit’ trailer takes us back to the Shire and intros new faces

It’s hard to believe that we’re a year away from the release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” and even harder to believe we’re a full decade out from the release of “Fellowship Of The Rings.”

It’s bold of Warner Bros. and New Line to throw down a full year ahead of release, but there are very few films that come with as much built-in anticipation as this one.  Sequels are one thing, and most of them arrive with a certain amount of hype, but in this case, you’re talking about a follow-up to one of the most beloved film trilogies of all time, and it’s not someone making up some flimsy excuse to make a new movie… it’s a book that may even be more beloved than the books that were the source material for the trilogy.

I know that “The Hobbit” was my gateway drug to the larger world of high fantasy, well before I read “Lord Of The Rings.”  And I still think “The Hobbit” is one of the great simple beautiful books of any genre, a perfect piece of storytelling that has left seismic ripples throughout all of fiction for the last 60 years or so.  Great characters, great set pieces, a great sense of time and place… “The Hobbit” has it all.

And in fact, that’s one of the things I was most curious about in terms of the advertising for this movie.  What made “Lord Of The Rings” land so deeply was the character roster, the wonderful people it introduced us to.  People don’t return to “LOTR” just for spectacle.  You can get that cheap in a million other places.  The thing that brings people back to “LOTR” specifically is that group of characters and the ways we got to know them.  That’s what made it such a cumulative thing, a journey that really did build in strength.

In fact, just talking about it, I’m tempted to finally do the entire return trip through the extended editions.  I haven’t seen a single one of the films since 2003.  I’ve intentionally set them aside for a while because I was in danger of being burned out once “Return Of The King” finished its grand victory lap.  They were all-consuming, culturally-speaking, when they were out.  And I’m sure Warner and New Line have their fingers crossed hoping that the same things happens when they unleash “The Hobbit” next year.

The other reason this feels slightly unreal is because for at least three years now, “The Hobbit” has seemed cursed.  Legal troubles and bankruptcy issues and director woes all conspired to keep this from happening.  And then… that all went away.  And now there’s real footage.  It’s not just Peter Jackson walking around on some familiar sets now.  It’s a glimpse into the world of Middle-Earth again, and the only question I had before playing it was “Will it feel the same?”

Watch it below:

And the answer is a resounding “Oh, wow, yes.  And how much of this thing is done?!”

If that were the trailer we were seeing two weeks before release, I’d be thrilled.  I’d think it was a slam dunk of a final trailer.  As a teaser?  Dear god, that’s a throw-down.  That is a major announcement that will run before all of this year’s Christmas movies saying, “Enjoy the wait through other lesser mortal films for the next year, because this time next Christmas, you’re going back to Middle-Earth, and we’re going to to own you all over again.”  That is a gorgeous piece of advertising, and while there’s a sense of big adventure and wild scale, there’s also a strong emphasis on the new characters we’re going to meet as well as the familiar faces we’re going to see again.  That last glimpse of Gollum?  Ding ding ding.  You win.

So now you tell me… how did it work for you?  Rate the trailer for us, and then vent your joy or your frustration in the comments.  And let me know… if I did a rewatch of the films between Christmas and New Year’s, would you want to participate here on the site?

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” arrives in theaters December 14, 2012.