It’s been nine years since the final Lord of the Rings film hit theaters, but the time has finally come to return to Middle-earth. Much will be the same, but there have also been some big changes happening during director Peter Jackson’s 266 days of filming on the Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the novel puts the focus on the character of Bilbo Baggins, the uncle of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) in LotR. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first part of Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, a much younger Bilbo (played by Martin Freeman) is recruited by Gandalf the Grey (again portrayed by Ian McKellen) to join 13 dwarves – including the warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) – for an adventure filled with Goblins, Orcs, Wargs and more.

In honor of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s December 14th debut, Jackson, producer Philippa Boyens, visuals effects supervisor Joe Letteri, cast members Freeman, Armitage, McKellen, Wood and motion-capture actor/second unit director, Andy Serkis (Gollum), came out to discuss the thrill of revisiting the beloved world, changes Lord of the Rings fans can expect and more.

Get the need-to-know information from the New York City press conference, below:

1. THERE IS ENOUGH MATERIAL FOR 3 MOVIES

It’s one thing to adapt a three-volume piece of material into three separate films, but a roughly 300-paged (depending on the edition) tale divided up into three movies? Jackson admitted, “We were originally doing two films,” but pointed out, “It’s a misleading book. It’s written at a really breathless pace. Pretty major events of the story are covered in two or three pages.” He even goes as far to liken it to a child’s bedtime story. While this might make it sound as though The Hobbit is even less suitable for a three-film adaptation, Jackson notes that making this film called for some serious character development and conflict.

Armitage used the dwarves as an example. “The dwarf characters, for instance, in Tolkien’s book, they’re very thinly sketched and actually they’re a bit of an amorphous group whereas [in the film] every single dwarf you will get to know throughout the course of this journey.” He continued, “As you’ve seen from the first film, the grand themes are feathered into the texture of it and in order to do that fully and allow each character to have their moment and to play their part in those themes, you will absolutely need three films to do it properly.”

McKellen was a bit more blunt about it, explaining, “Anyone who thinks Peter Jackson would fall for market forces rather than artistic imperative doesn’t know the guy and hasn’t examined the body of his work.” He joked, “If we just had made one movie of The Hobbit, the fact is that all the fans, and I’m thinking of the eight, nine, ten-year-old boys and girls, they would watch it 1,000 times. Well, they’ve now got three films they can watch 1,000 times.”

In all seriousness, Jackson pointed out, “We also adapt the appendices from The Return of the King,” which tacks on about another 100 pages of material. The goal was to use that material to expand The Hobbit while also connecting it to The Lord of the Rings.”

2. IT HAS A MORE COMEDIC TONE

While there were some lighter moments in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson stressed that the nature of The Hobbit is quite different, specifically highlighting, “There was a lot more comedy in The Hobbit than there was in The Lord of the Rings films, and it’s comedy of a fish out of water, actually.” That fish, of course, being Bilbo on his big journey.

3. IT’S THE DEBUT OF HIGH FRAME RATE 3D

Not only did Jackson take on the monumental task of transporting us back to Middle-earth and shooting three massive productions at once – he also challenged the norm of shooting a film at 24 frames per second. The Hobbit is shot at 48 frames per second, and while non-film nerds may be thinking, “24? 48? What’s the big deal?” it is a big deal, and it has the power to completely alter the viewing experience.

Now the question is: was taking the 48 fps plunge worth the risk? Jackson pointed out that most moviegoers under the age of 20 don’t really care and “they often just say the 3D looks really cool.” As for Jackson himself, he said, “I think 3D at 24 frames is interesting,” but it’s the 48 fps that actually allows the 3D to look life-like.

The real benefit (for all you 3D haters out there) is that, according to Jackson, 48 fps 3D makes things “more comfortable to watch,” with Jackson specifically citing less eye strain and a sharper picture.

4. THERE’S A LACK OF LADIES

We’ve got Bilbo, Gandalf, and 13 dwarves, but where are The Hobbit ladies? Some are coming – just not in An Unexpected Journey.

Boyens fielded this question, admitting, “I love 13 dwarves and they’re all gorgeous, but you do feel the weight of that lack of femininity.” She also pointed out that, oddly enough, Tolkien wrote brilliantly for women. “He had a real respect for women, and the most powerful being in Middle-earth at this time as he wrote was Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). And so we have her story as it develops, as he wrote it, as it informs the whole.”

There’s also Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel, but she’ll have to wait until the second movie, The Desolation of Smaug. However, Boyens did toss in, “It’s gonna get good for the girls, I think.”

NEXT PAGE: Gollum, Gandalf, and Production Details…

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