Last night's Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug fan event linked cast and fans in multiple locations around the world via the Eye Of Jackson. Empire was on hand to witness excitement levels soaring through a number of roofs with the introduction of Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis, Orlando Bloom, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace and Jed Brophy in Wellington, London, LA and New York.
The highpoint of the evening - aside from a nail-biting cosplay contest that pitched one lady dressed as a barrel against another clad as Bilbo's front door - was a full 20 minutes of footage from the second Hobbit adventure. Jackson cautioned that a few of the effects from the five showcased sequences remained unfinished, but the show reel gave an impressive flavour of a movie that's a whisker from completion. [NB Highlight the hidden text for spoiler detail]
The first sequence showed Bilbo in the treetops of Mirkwood. A peek through the forest roof shows the company's destination, the Lonely Mountain and Long Lake, in the middle distance. Bilbo's glee is short-lived, however, as a sinister rustling heralds the approach of the wood's spidery denizens. Battle joined, the hobbit displays his new-found fighting prowess, with the Ring offering the dual advantage of invisibility and [spoiler starts] the ability to hear the spiders' conversation. As one is dispatched the forest floor, it cries out "Argh, it stings!". And, lo, Sting is christened. [spoiler ends]
As action sequences go, it's comfortably the best we've seen in The Hobbit trilogy so far: tightly-paced, with Jackson marshalling the effects work and camera moves into a nightmarishly gothic scenario from which there seems no obvious escape. But clearly there is, because we next see Bilbo freeing the dwarves from their wood-elf jailers and ushering them into barrels and out of the cellars via a Heath Robinson-esque system of levers and trapdoors. As two drunk (drugged?) elves snooze obliviously, the alert is raised and chase given.
The serene menace of the elves, and their animus towards orc and dwarf alike, shined through in this and one other sequence in which Thranduil (Pace) and Tauriel (Lilly) subject an orc pathfinder to 'enhanced interrogation'. Just in case anyone saw Tauriel as just a watered-down Galadriel facsimile, this scene should disavow them of that notion. Her aggressive, impetutous side comes to the fore as she lunges for orc blood and is stopped only at Thranduil's command. It doesn't do the orc much good, mind you. [spoiler starts] His head and body soon part company[spoiler ends], though not before he spits out an ominous warning. "You know nothing," he spits at Thranduil. "Your world will burn. The flames of war are upon you." The hint here is that Thrandruil may be missing the bigger picture: that Smaug is far from the greatest of his worries and that the real menace lurking just over the horizon is the Necromancer / Sauron.
Then we were treated to another fiddly relationship the dwarves must negotiate - doesn't anyone have a soft spot for the poor wee blighters? - with Bard the Bowman carrying them across wintry waters and into Lake-town via some very fishy barrels. Money changes hands. This is no noble gesture. Gloin isn't happy about any of it.
Last, but definitely not least, was a scene in which Bilbo is farewelled by Balin and left to tiptoe timidly down Escher-like staircases and into Smaug's lair to locate the Arkenstone. A little timidity is probably forgiveable in the circumstances. The dragon in the room, awoken by the inevitable chink of gold and crunch of jewels under the hobbit's feet, stirs as Baggins searches forlornly for a hiding place.
The effects work in the scene is remarkable - think Gringotts' multiplying treasures, multiplied by a thousand - and the slow-burn tension of the sequence and swooping camerawork replaces An Unexpected Journey's whimsy with something more gripping and, well, self-assured.
Among many other nuggets unveiled by Jackson during the night was news that Ed Sheeran has stepped into Neil Finn's songwriting shoes to pen the movie's end credits theme. A debut play of his song 'I See Fire', a slow-burning folk anthem that will be your Christmas earwyrm, went down a treat with the assembled throngs.
I very happy to announce I have written and recorded the end credits song for the new Hobbit movie 'The Desolation of Smaug'
Still on a musical note, a deleted scene from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was also debuted. If you loved the washing-up song, this scene, in which Bofur (James Nesbitt) leads the company of dwarves in a singalong of the pub tub-thumper 'Man In The Moon', is definitely for you.
Jackson also hinted that the final Hobbit / Lord Of The Rings box sets will feature a long blooper reel, the franchise's first. Judging by some of Ian McKellen's swearier outtakes currently doing the rounds, it will be well worth looking out for.