All is well for Peter Jackson's The Hobbit movies, which now officially have subtitles more interesting than Part 1 & 2. Principal photography on the long-delayed Lord of the Rings prequel began a few months back in New Zealand and - with the exception of Rob Kazinsky's departure - the shooting process for the film has been virtually problem-free in comparison to pre-production.
Casting for both Hobbit pictures is close to done at this point; still, just yesterday, the role of a pivotal supporting character who will likely appear in the second film (The Hobbit: There and Back Again) was finally filled. We also now know what part(s) Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing in the movies as well.
Deadline has revealed that Luke Evans (Robin Hood, Clash of the Titans) has been cast as Bard the Bowman, a rugged archer who could be thought of as the Aragorn-type character of The Hobbit. To expand on that: Bard is the heir to King Girion of Dale, who was murdered by the dragon Smaug when the creature lay Dale to ruin and took control of the Lonely Mountain - conquering the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor in the process. That act would eventually inspire the dwarfish warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to lead a quest to reclaim the Mountain - a quest that a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) unexpectedly joined. Hence why the first Hobbit film is titled The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, basically.
On the topic of Smaug: It was long been rumored that Bill Nighy (last seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1) would be voicing the sinister dragon. However, it turns out that Cumberbatch will not only be providing the vocals for Smaug, he'll physically portray the CGI monster via the magic of motion-capture - much like his costar Andy Serkis will be doing once again as Gollum.
Cumberbatch will also voice a villainous character known as the Necromancer - who was mentioned in the original Hobbit novel and eventually turned out to be the first intimation of Sauron returning to power. That means he'll also be following in the footsteps of John Rhys-Davies, who pulled double duty by playing Gimli and voicing Treebeard in Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Both Evans and Cumberbatch look to have their acting stature increase significantly over the next year alone. Evans has been in contention for several high-profile roles of late (including the lead in The Bourne Legacy) and looks to show off his action-man chops this fall in titles like The Three Musketeers and Immortals. Cumberbatch, by comparison, has earned much in the way of praise recently as the leading man in Steven Moffat's Sherlock series, and will also appear in two potential award contenders later this year: Tomas Alfredson's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Steven Spielberg's War Horse. So more people should be familiar with both these fellows before the first Hobbit movie hits theaters - even though, chances are good that neither Evans or Cumberbatch's respective character(s) will show up until the second film.
On a related note: Those of you who missed (or just want to revisit) the Hobbit set video Peter Jackson released a couple months back should definitely check that out; it's an excellent tease of the creative costumes, props, and sets that will be used to bring Middle-Earth to life once again. That ten-minute feature should also help tide you over until more behind-the-scenes material or actual Hobbit film footage is released.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is slated to hit U.S. theaters on December 14th, 2012.
The Hobbit: There and Back Again will arrive in theaters about a year later on December 13th, 2013.