"The Weekend Rent" offers quick-hit suggestions of what to watch at home to get psyched for new releases in theaters, on Fridays. Click on the links to see where you can watch the movie right now.
The one prequel to rule them all at the box office this weekend is, of course, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson's first in a planned trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's novel that is set before the events of The Lord of the Rings. The return to Middle-earth is filled with familiar faces from LOTR like Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Gollum (Andy Serkis), as well as Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) in the wraparound story.
The heart of The Hobbit is a young Bilbo Baggins, played by English actor Martin Freeman, who reluctantly abandons the Shire and goes on a dangerous adventure with Gandalf and a bunch of dwarves. Freeman might not yet be a familiar face on these shores, but all of that will change when legions of fans return to Middle-earth this weekend. Whether you choose to watch The Hobbit in 2D, 3D, 48 fps (throw this ghastly technology back in the fires of Mount Doom!), 24 fps, IMAX or some combination of these, Freeman grounds Jackson's fantastical epic.
Freeman has appeared on at least 18 British TV shows, so BBC junkies might be more familiar with him than most Americans. He played Tim Canterbury on all 14 episodes of the original The Office, the complete collection of which is available in a Region 1 DVD set. More recently, he made a greater impression as Dr. John Watson in the critically praised Sherlock, the first two seasons of which are available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD with a planned third season to begin filming in March of 2013. The show's Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch, costars with Freeman in The Hobbit trilogy in two roles: the voice and motion capture of the Necromancer, and the voice of Smaug the dragon.
If you're a fan of Simon Pegg's brand of humor, the actor/writer seems to also be a Freeman fan. Freeman had a cameo in the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead as Declan. A few years later in the buddy-cop homage Hot Fuzz, which was also cowritten by and stars Pegg, Freeman appears as the sergeant of the Metropolitan Police Service. Both outrageously funny films directed by Edgar Wright are available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Back in 2005, Freeman had his most notable pre-Hobbit big-screen role as Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas Adams' oft-adapted story is about an ordinary guy making his way through the universe after he discovers his best friend is an alien and the Earth is about to be destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. The frantic, silly sci-fi comedy costars Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel and John Malkovich, and is available on DVD, Blu-ray and various VOD services.