It won’t reach theaters until December 2012, but the first part of Peter Jackson’s two-movie adaptation of The Hobbit has been much-buzzed about recently, thanks to the release of a teaser trailer and production diary video that have provided an early look at the filmmaker’s cinematic return to the world of dwarves, elves, hobbits, wizards, and other mystical Middle-Earth creatures.

One unanswered question that has surrounded the Hobbit flicks for a while now has to do with how much the films will connect to Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings book trilogy – given that the original Hobbit novel is part-prequel to that grand-scale story, but also part self-contained, children-friendly fantasy adventure.

Jackson spoke recently with Total Film about not only the tonal differences between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but also that between the two Hobbit films (subtitled An Unexpected Journey and There and Back Again, respectively).

Here is what Jackson and his significant other/writing partner Fran Walsh had to offer, on that particular topic:

Jackson: “‘The Hobbit’ is very much a children’s book and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is something else; it’s not really aimed at children at all. I realized the characters of the dwarves are the difference. Their energy and disdain of anything politically correct brings a new kind of spirit to it… The dwarves give it a kind of childish, comedic quality that gives us a very different tone from [the ‘Rings’ trilogy].”

Walsh: “We always saw ‘The Hobbit’ more in the golden light of a fairytale. It’s more playful. But by the time you get to the end, Tolkien is writing himself into that place where he can begin that epic journey of writing LOTR, which took, as he put it, his life’s blood. All those heavier, darker themes which are so prevalent in the later trilogy start to come [more] into play in [‘There and Back Again’].”

Despite that change-up in narrative material and overall tone from Lord of the Rings, Jackson says that he is still aiming to maintain continuity (in terms of visual style and atmosphere) between The Hobbit and his previous live-action take on Middle-Earth.

Although onetime Hobbit helmer Guillermo del Toro’s “style and [creative] DNA” will still be present in the final product, Jackson indicates that his own artistic stamp on the films will be much more prominent and recognizable.

Middle-Earth, as portrayed in 'The Hobbit'

Jackson’s last directorial effort, The Lovely Bones, was by and large considered a significant drop-off from the quality of his previous big-budget fantastical ventures (ie. the Rings trilogy and King Kong remake). By all accounts, the filmmaker seems to be back in top form with The Hobbit, if only because of his apparent renewed energy and passion for Tolkien’s source material.

Likewise, word that Jackson and Co. are designing the Hobbit films as truly unique pictures that stand out on their own, while still taking place in the same world established in the Rings movies, is all the more welcome news – especially for the fans who are concerned about both halves of The Hobbit suffering from “prequel-itis” (ie. when prequel stories tie-in so closely to plot points in their predecessor, they end up feeling contrived and awkward).

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will arrives in theaters (2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D) around the U.S. on December 14th, 2012.

The Hobbit: There and Back Again hits U.S. theaters a year later on December 13th, 2013.

Soure: Total Film (via io9)