(NBC) -- It's a big day for fans of "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy.

Nearly nine years to the day since the Oscar winning finale to that saga was released, a new "prequel" trilogy begins with "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey".

Actor Martin Freeman never realized he would be perfect to play Bilbo Baggins, the "Hobbit" at the center of the film, but many of the book's fans did.

"I was aware that fans saw it for me. For years, years ago, and I didn't really know what they
meant. Really? I'd be perfect Bilbo Baggins? Why? I don't get that," he laughs.

Freeman is the major addition to a cast of familiar faces from the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy,
including Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf.

His return to the role was also a bow to fans' wishes.

"The fans don't care how much you're being paid. They don't care that you're living away from
home. They don't care that you've got doubts. They just want Gandalf back!" McKellen says.

Fans were also heartened that "Lord Of The Rings" mastermind Peter Jackson got past his initial reluctance to direct the new trilogy.

There's also new technology.

Some theaters will show the film in 3D at 48 frames per second, twice the speed of traditional films, resulting in super sharp images.

"It solidifies things and makes them feel very real. It's like the missing half of 3D in my mind. It makes 3D into something really cool," Jackson says.

He's hoping fans say the same thing about the newest journey to Middle Earth.

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