Peter Jackson unveiled a sneak-peek look at
The Desolation Of Smaug
to everyone who bought a copy of
An Unexpected Journey
in an exclusive online event at 7pm on 24 March 2013 (UK time).
Part 2 picks up after the events of AUJ , as Bilbo Baggins and the company of Dwarves continue on their journey after escaping the goblins in the Misty Mountains.
Key to the sequel (as the title attests) will be dragon Smaug, played by Benedict Cumberbatch in a performance-capture suit. Seen in snatched glimpses during the first film's prologue, his eyeball was revealed in close-up in the final shot.
The gold-hoarding fire-breather isn't the only new character likely to make an entrance in Part 2, with Woodland Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and shapeshifting bear-man Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) set to make their debuts.
We caught Jackson's specially screened footage from Part 2, and here are the 10 essential things we learned from it…
1. Smaug is being kept under wraps… for now
Jackson is still keeping the second film's MVP under wraps. In the early stages of the video event, when Jackson passed through the pre-viz department, a designer offered an on-screen glimpse of Smaug. Don't get too excited though - eagle-eyed viewers will have spotted that it was an extra from How To Train Your Dragon , rather than an authentic glimpse at Desolation 's big bad.
Likewise for the glimpse another designer gave us of a "T-Rex with wings". Jackson sent him back to the drawing board…
2. Peter Jackson cutting room is a film-geek haven
En route to the Cutting Room (where the majority of the event took place), Jackson took us down a corridor lined with James Bond posters. Six-sheet posters to be precise. Though, there's still some wall space to fill...
On the wall of the edit suite was a Jason And The Argonauts poster (perhaps an inspiration for the grand-scale fantasy adventure).
And for sampling edits as they go, there's a 103-inch widescreen TV. The mission to get one of those behemoths for the office begins now...
3. Martin Freeman gives something new every take
To give an idea of what actually goes on in the edit suite, Jackson laid on various takes of a sequence in which Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) takes Bilbo and the Dwarves on a boat ride to Laketown.
You'd be surprised how many inflections could be brought to the line, "You never venture east!", but Freeman seems to have an endless supply of them.
The scene was far from finished, with lurid green-screen standing in for fully rendered backdrops, but on board the vessel itself, you could glimpse a neat bundle of barrels. We imagine they'll come in useful.
4. Bard the Bowman will be badass
According to Jackson, Bard the Bowman will be "one of the really cool things in the second movie". With his role set to be notably expanded from the text, Evans looks to further cement his rep as one of Britain's most in-demand exports (he's playing the villain in 2013's Fast & Furious 6 ).
Bard will be an enigmatic, Robin Hood-esque figure, and should rival Middle-earth's finest when it comes to arrow-skills.
As well as the aforementioned boat sequence, there were a couple of behind-the-scenes shots of Bard darting around Laketown, and brooding mysteriously.
5. Evangeline Lilly's Tauriel will also be badass
Lilly's Woodland Elf has been largely shrouded in secrecy so far. A new character created to beef up the movie adaptation, Tauriel should provide the girl power that Eowyn and Arwen brought to the screen versions of Tolkien's male-centric novels.
Tauriel was revealed to be the bodyguard of Thranduil (Lee Pace), father of Legolas and King of the Woodland Realm. Handy with twin blades, Tauriel looks to be pretty merciless when it comes to despatching Orcs.
And PJ also revealed that he was excited about the story arc created for this original character.
6. Legolas will be getting involved in the action
He might be Elvish royalty, but Legolas will be getting stuck back into the action again this time around. His invention on the battlefield was one of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy's recurrent highlights, and he looks set to reprise that in TDOS .
As there was still a lot of green-screen in place, it wasn't entirely clear who Legolas was scrapping with, or why, just that he was. (At one point he was balanced precariously on two green footholds that were being vigorously rocked by an army of set-hands. Only time will tell what CGI will step in to replace the greenery.)
And Peter Jackson was keen to stress that laidback Orlando Bloom is worlds apart in personality terms from his po-faced, strait-laced onscreen counterpart.
Judging by the footage, Bloom actually seems to be ageing at the same rate as an Elf.
7. Mirkwood will be a terrifying location
If we took one thing away from the event, it's that The Desolation Of Smaug will take The Hobbit into altogether scarier territory than An Unexpected Journey .
Jackson revealed some of John Howe's concept art, which showed Mirkwood as a dark, looming fairytale-esque forest.
The fortress of Dol Guldur (the stronghold of the Necromancer), is infecting the forest, spreading its unique brand of evil throughout the land. Actor Jed Brophy ('Nori') co-presented the event with Jackson, and attested to the set's scariness levels.
Inside Thranduil's realm there was no shortage of grandeur either, with a network of bridges appearing organically from the trees. And Thranduil himself has a particularly impressive throne to sit on.
8. The Necromancer will have an expanded role in Part 2
Jackson was asked if the Necromancer will play a bigger role in Desolation , and he answered with a resounding, "Yes!"
Sadly, he didn't venture any further details, but Cumberbatch fans will be pleased to know that they're getting an expanded double dose (Cumberbatch plays both Smaug and the Necromancer via the magic of performance capture).
9. Gandalf will be playing detective
In the only completed clip to be revealed, we witnessed Gandalf journeying into the tombs within the High Fells, to discover how the Witch-King of Angmar's blade might have been exhumed.
Looks as though something broke out, as opposed to in. Inside the tombs, Gandalf bumped into Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), in a scene that amped up the fear factor. This sequence was further evidence of the Tolkien appendices being mined to beef up The Hobbit .
10. The trailer arrives in summer, and the video blogs will continue
The trailer is still being worked on, with VFX shots being tweaked in readiness, and Jackson promised that it'd likely appear in front of summer 2013's biggest blockbusters ( Man Of Steel , anyone?)
And, fans will also be keen to learn that Jackson's enormously generous videoblogs will return to provide further insight into the production process.
And with that, the event came to an end, with a brief montage of unfinished behind-the-scenes clips, ending on a shot of Thorin Oakenshield in Laketown, stating forcefully that, "We have come back to reclaim our homeland!" And then an almighty roar - from what can only be Smaug - brought the proceedings to a close.
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug opens in the UK on 13 December 2013.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download from 8 April 2013.
Check out what Peter Jackson and his cast had to say when we asked them what they were most looking forward to audiences seeing in The Desolation Of Smaug :