One question that’s been burning our brains – ever since the announcement that Peter Jackson is turning J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit into a trilogy – is how, exactly, Tolkien’s simple story will be stretched out and split up to cover not two, but three massive fantasy epics (much less, a prequel trilogy that matches the accomplishment of Jackson’s Academy Award-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy).

A third Hobbit movie was not confirmed until two weeks after Jackson had shown off twelve minutes of footage at Comic-Con; even then, the director was already indicating that some of the material might be pushed back to the second film, which has since been re-titled The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Some of the narrative material covered in Tolkien’s Return of the King appendices will also be used to fill in the cracks – especially in the third film, There and Back Again.

Today marks three months to the first installment in Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, subtitled An Unexpected Journey; more importantly to dyed-in-the-wool Tolkien fans, this is also the beginning of Tolkien week, a seven-day period containing September 22nd – the birthday of one Bilbo Baggins, as well as his nephew Frodo. To celebrate the occasion, Jackson has announced (via Facebook) that a second trailer for An Unexpected Journey will premiere this Wednesday with additional (almost) finished footage, hopefully giving us a better sense of what will and won’t be covered from Tolkien’s source material.

In the meantime, we have six new screenshots from An Unexpected Journey to help tide you over, including the first official look at ex-Doctor Who star Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown. A scan from the upcoming Hobbit tie-in calendar featuring Gandalf’s (Ian McKellen) fellow wizard began circulating a couple weeks ago, but this is the first look we’ve gotten at the character in official image form. As co-writer/producer Philippa Boyens told USA Today:

“[Radagast is] not at all like Gandalf. There’s a power and danger and sharpness and wits and cunning even about Gandalf that you sense immediately, whereas Radagast is much quieter and gentler. You could mistakenly think he’s not even a wizard or that he might not have any powers of his own, and then you discover that he does.”

Boyens may have partially shown her (and, in turn, Jackson’s) hand of cards while discussing the character Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), indicating that the Hobbit trilogy will be as much his story as it will be that of the young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). Specifically, she said, “You want him to inherit this kingdom. You want to feel that if he can take back his homeland, he’ll rule for a good many years.”

The original published form of Tolkien’s Hobbit novel was a standalone child-friendly fantasy adventure, but later versions were revised to better tie-in to the events of the author’s Rings trilogy. Jackson and his collaborators are taking that a step further, with a three-part film adaptation that has more room for secondary character development (ex. Thorin’s journey) and additional subplots such as that concerning the White Council, where Radagast comes into play.

Jackson and his life partner/co-writer/producer Fran Walsh previously suggested An Unexpected Journey strikes a lighter tone similar to the initial publications of The Hobbit; subsequent installments, in turn, will become progressively darker and more serious, so as to set the stage for the Rings trilogy. The end goal, of course, is to create a hexalogy of Middle-earth films that feel as though they link together in a smooth, organic, fashion.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hits theaters on December 14th, 2012; its sequel, The Desolation of Smaug, follows on December 13th, 2013; and the final installment, There and Back Again, release on July 18th, 2014.

Source: Warner Bros. (via USA Today), Peter Jackson