There’s no avoiding the ongoing discussion about the impending release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey next Friday. Current hot topics include the mixed (yet overall positive) early reviews, controversy over the film’s high frame-rate 3D – and background information on the J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation, for those still getting up to speed on this Middle-earth madness.

We’ve even started to look ahead to the second and third installments in Jackson’s new Tolkien trilogy. Last night, the first image from Part 3 (subtitled There and Back Again) was unveiled – teasing the return of Lord of the Rings alum Orlando Bloom as Legolas – and today, we have a sneak peek at Part 2, The Desolation of Smaug.

‘The Desolation of Smaug’ refers to the unpopulated lands around Erebor (a.k.a. Lonely Mountain) and the city of Dale, which were left scorched and utterly devoid of life after the dragon Smaug attacked and claimed Erebor as his own – including, massive piles of treasure amassed there by the Dwarves. Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness) is voicing and portraying via motion-capture the scaly fire-breather, whom humble hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) encounters on his own in the depths of Smaug’s gold-filled lair.

You can get a sneak peek at that scene from Tolkien’s original Hobbit novel (which is recreated in The Desolation of Smaug) below, via EW:

Who else out there is amused by the thought of Freeman conversing with a giant CGI monster version of Cumberbatch (who Bilbo is presumable facing, offscreen in the screenshot above) – seeing how the duo play the inseparable John Watson and Sherlock Holmes on the BBC’s hit series Sherlock? Suffice it to say, the endless Internet fanvids, memes, and parodies are inevitable. Moving on…

Hugo Weaving (who reprises his role as Immortal Elrond from Lord of the Rings) previously indicated that the climactic Battle of Five Armies from Tolkien’s source material is going to be the major event that propels the story forward in There and Back Again – after the ‘dragon problem’ is (mostly? Fully?) resolved in The Desolation of Smaug, that is.

Hobbit co-writer/producer Philippa Boyens confirmed as much to EW when she said:

“The dragon is a huge, wonderful, amazing part of the story, but it doesn’t end there. Everyone can suspect there’s a rather large battle in film three.”

That creative decision makes sense from a storytelling perspective, as the conflict with Smaug and Battle of Five Armies are each (arguably) sufficiently-massive events to sustain single films. Moreover, subsequent Hobbit installments should build off the momentum that most people say An Unexpected Journey gains in its second and third acts – and thus, mark an improvement on the first chapter in Jackson’s new Middle-earth yarn.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hits theaters on December 14th. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug hits theaters December 13th, 2013. And lastly, The Hobbit: There and Back Again hits theaters July 18th, 2014.

Source: EW

Header Image Source: David Demaret