With the Dec. 14 opening of the first installment of director Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, subtitled An Unexpected Journey, only days away, rabid J.R.R. Tolkien fans are already looking ahead and speculating about how the story will play out over the two films that’ll follow. Well, here’s a big clue. In this exclusive first image from the second film, The Desolation of Smaug, in theaters Dec. 13, 2013, we see Bilbo Baggins going for the gold. To be more exact, we see Martin Freeman’s reluctant hobbit hero splayed out on a massive pile of treasure, looking up in hobbit-y alarm at what we can probably safely assume is an enormous and not very happy fire-breathing dragon named Smaug.
But hold on, you might be saying: Isn’t The Hobbit basically all about a quest to reclaim a pile of gold from a dragon? If we see this climactic scene in the second movie, what’s left for the final film, There and Back Again, due July 18, 2014? In fact, as anyone who’s read the book knows, the tale of The Hobbit — which Jackson is expanding considerably by drawing on some 120 pages of appendices Tolkien wrote to The Lord of the Rings that elaborate on the story — actually continues well past the face-off with Smaug at the Lonely Mountain, culminating eventually in the epic battle Battle of Five Armies, involving Laketown men, orcs, dwarves, goblins, elves, wargs, and giant eagles. “The dragon is a huge, wonderful, amazing part of the story, but it doesn’t end there,” says screenwriter and producer Philippa Boyens. “Everyone can suspect there’s a rather large battle in film three.”
This week’s cover: Go inside ‘The Hobbit’
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‘The Hobbit': Peter Jackson on Oscar chances — INTERVIEW + 6 MOVIE CLIPS