Here’s my viewing guide for a full and chronological Lord of the Rings screen-experience. ‘Starting off’ with The Hobbit movie trilogy would be the worst possible introduction to Tolkien. Having seen the trilogies and key fan-films multiple times, this is how I’d suggest doing it in chronological order of events…
1. The excellent 70-minute fan-film Born of Hope, for the Aragorn back-story.
2. The Hobbit trilogy in the form of the 3.7 hour “Empty Sea Edit” bloat-free fan-edit, which is near-perfect up until the travellers reach Lake-town and tip out of their fish-barrels (about two-thirds of the way into the story). After you encounter that scene, just stop watching the film immediately.
3. Then switch to the 1968 BBC full-cast radio adaptation of The Hobbit (free online). This is very faithful to the book. Listen from 4:00 mins in Episode 6 “A Warm Welcome”, to 16:30 (Bilbo says “wait here…”, the point at which Bilbo is set to go down the stairs).
4. Then back to The Hobbit screen trilogy, again in the form of the “Empty Sea Edit”. See the superb 15 minute ‘Bilbo and Smaug the dragon’ section. Stop watching as soon as that section finishes.
5. Then back to the 1968 BBC full-cast radio adaptation to finish the story of The Hobbit — Episode 6 “A Warm Welcome”, from 24:00 mins onwards. Then listen to the final two episodes, “7. The Gathering of the Clouds” and “8. The Cloud Bursts” (60 minutes in total).
Admittedly, step 5 has very annoying elves. If you really can’t stand to listen to the BBC’s “squeaky-voiced” elves for an hour, then the relevant section of the Rob Inglis audiobook of The Hobbit would be a good alternative with which to conclude the story of The Hobbit.
(Why? Even the “Empty Sea Edit” can’t rescue the final part of Peter Jackson’s film of The Hobbit, and viewing this overwrought and emotionally-weak attempt to make a ‘Lord of The Rings 2’ will likely spoil a viewing of The Lord of the Rings trilogy itself).
7. Then The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the extended DVD versions, but skipping entirely the long and bombastic exposition-for-dummies at the start of the first film. Instead, just start quietly in the Shire. Specifically, start with Frodo lying down under a tree in the woods, just before he first encounters Gandalf in the lane. (This nicely mirrors the similarly quiet Shire opening which the “Empty Sea Edit” gives to The Hobbit).
You’ll then want to pace yourself with well-placed breaks throughout the main 12-hour trilogy, or risk severe movie-fatigue which will spoil your enjoyment and comprehension of the story. This is especially true of the extended cut of the final Return of the King film in the trilogy, which deserves to be savoured with untired eyes.
All told, that lot should take you about 30 hours.