Though generally well-received, many reviews for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey criticized the fantasy adventure for being a bit of a slog, with twenty minutes of its 170-minute running time dedicated just to Bilbo and the dwarves eating dinner. However, with the journey already underfoot and the Lonely Mountain on the horizon, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug definitely looks like it could be a much stronger and more exciting entry in Peter Jackson’s new Middle-earth trilogy.

One of the big draws for the sequel, as evidenced by the title, is the introduction of Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) himself, who has so far only been glimpsed in brief bits and pieces during the original attack on Erebor and in extreme close-up at the end of An Unexpected Journey. However, with the release of The Desolation of Smaug less than a fortnight away, it’s time to reveal Smaug in all his high-flying glory.

For all the people who thought it was impossible to top Snakes on a Plane, New Line Cinema has joined forces with Air New Zealand to bring the first full image of Smaug to the public – in particular, the members of the public who happen to be hanging out at Auckland airport or LAX. An Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300ER has been decorated with a full-length image of Smaug, which on a cloudy day might just look like an actual dragon soaring through the sky. Check out a time-lapse video of the preparation above.

In addition to the handful of shots in An Unexpected Journey, Smaug has also shown up in the trailers for The Desolation of Smaug, albeit in low light and mostly buried beneath an enormous pile of gold. The image on the plane isn’t totally clear, due to Smaug’s hide being perforated by windows (not to mention the emergency exit on his neck), but it’s the clearest look at the movie’s fire-breathing villain so far.

It’s a clever marketing stunt, though it might have been better to keep Smaug out of the public eye as much as possible until the film’s release. Seeing Jackson’s interpretation of the creature for the first time on a massive cinema screen (in full 3D and 48fps glory with Cumberbatch’s already powerful voice filtered for extra gravel) is probably reason enough to see The Desolation of Smaug in theaters.

Since the interior of the plane wasn’t shown in this image or video, we’re going to assume that the walls are gut-pink and all the seats are flame-red. There’s no use doing things by half-measures.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens in theaters December 13th, 2013.

Source: Air New Zealand