[Warning: Spoilers for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ahead!]

Now that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has hit theaters, Peter Jackson has one film left before he’s finished with Middle-earth (ostensibly) for good; that would be There and Back Again, the capstone of the trilogy where all of the events we’ve witnessed across the preceding entries (beginning with 2012’s An Unexpected Journey) will come to a head. But wherever you fall on the franchise to date – love it, hate it, or something in between – two big questions hang over it: what can we expect from the third movie, and what would the series have looked like in a two-picture format?

If these queries haunt you, then you’re in luck: Jackson, as well as his cast, have answers to both of them. In the above Yahoo! Movies clip, Jackson and his immense (and immensely talented) troupe of actors each weigh in on the shape and tone of There and Back Again, well in advance of the film’s premiere next Winter (contrary to its original July 2014 opening date). The shortened version of their combined thoughts on the movie is that it’s going to be, well, big, and certainly the most emotional of the three; if you saw The Desolation of Smaug, then you should – in the words of Luke Evans – get an idea of the “enormity” of what’s coming up next.

The most telling testimony of the bunch (which includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage), though, comes from Jackson himself, who hits the nail quite bluntly on the head: There and Back Again is going to be filled with action. That should be immediately apparent even to people who haven’t read J.R.R. Tolkien’s original novel, which ends with a massive clash between Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Goblins on the footsteps of the Lonely Mountain; The Desolation of Smaug sets up that conflict and more in its final moments before leaving its audience on a cliffhanger note.

We know that a wrathful Smaug is headed toward Lake-town with vengeance in mind, and also that an army of Orcs is on the move out of Dol Guldur as Gandalf watches helplessly, caged in a tower. So, perhaps, it goes without saying that There and Back Again should be an absolute smorgasbord of big-scale action. What may be less obvious is how Jackson intended on fitting all of this material into two films, as originally planned, before turning his duo into a trio; when was the decision made to stretch the text into a third installment, and where would Jackson have split the story if he’d kept it as a two-parter? 

The answers to both questions might surprise you; speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Jackson quite happily divulged the truth behind the trilogy’s inception, and also pinpointed exactly where An Unexpected Journey would have ended had The Hobbit been cut in half instead of thirds. As it turns out, the decision to turn the project into a trilogy came from him and his screenwriting compatriots, Fran Walsh and Philipa Boyens; as for the location of the split, well, just have a look at the quote below:

The split was going to occur where Bard [Luke Evans] appears on the river bank as a silhouetted figure with a bow. So the whole barrel sequence was going to be the climax.

That’s an interesting thought: given where that scene takes place in The Desolation of Smaug, bringing An Unexpected Journey up to that point would have resulted in an enormous theatrical cut. That said, it’s very possible that, kept to just a pair of movies, Jackson could have cut down on a lot of the arguably extraneous content in An Unexpected Journey to bring it in line from 4 plus hours of footage to a more acceptable two and a half (thereabouts) hours, but that kind of editing would have resulted in a very different set of movies than the ones we’ve actually gotten.

Which just raises the question of whether Jackson was right to expand The Hobbit this way at all. For the diehard Tolkien fans, there’s no question at all, of course, and whether we like it or not, There and Back Again is coming in less than 365 days, but it’s still a thought well worth pondering.

Where do you stand, Screen Ranters? Did Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens make the right move, or would The Hobbit have been better-served kept as two pictures?

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is now playing in theaters.

The Hobbit: There and Back Again arrives in theaters on December 17th, 2014.

Sources: Yahoo! Movies, Entertainment Weekly