Smaug the dragon takes flight on Hobbit-themed Air New Zealand plane

The Boeing 737 features a life-size image of Bilbo Baggins' fiery nemesis ahead of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug's cinema release on 13 December


One of Benedict Cumberbatch’s biggest characters is set to adorn the side of a plane. But calm down, Sherlock fans. Before you start booking tickets, we should make clear that it’s Smaug the dragon from the upcoming sequel to The Hobbit who is the basis of the artwork – so think fiery eyes and scaly back rather than curly mop and popping cheekbones…


The deadly beast will take flight on the side of an Air New Zealand Boeing 737 plane which will no doubt scare away the birds en route from Auckland, NZ to Los Angeles ahead of the Tuesday premiere of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. 

The 54m-long image marks the very first time Smaug has been seen in his entirety, with the first film featuring a tantalising glimpse of his eye, while the current trailers offer only passing shots accompanied by Cumberbatch’s rumbling vocals. 

Hobbit director Peter Jackson – who will release his new film in the US and UK on 13 December – called the Air New Zealand project “awe inspiring”. 

“To see Smaug fly off the big screen and into the skies like this is pretty exciting,” he said. “We’re proud to debut him here in New Zealand, where our team has worked so hard to bring him to life.”

Visual effects supervisor, Eric Saindon, commented on the difficulty of finding a design to fit the airborne vehicle. “Capturing Smaug’s presence and the amazing detail in his design while accommodating windows, doors and wing shape was quite a different experience for us,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Air New Zealand has come out in support of the Tolkien-inspired films, which use the country’s stunning locations to recreate Middle Earth. Last Christmas Jackson received a cameo role in the airline’s air safety video to coincide with the release of An Unexpected Journey, while the cast of the franchise flew to the LA premiere in a special Hobbit-themed Boeing 777 with their faces pictured along the side.

Wellington Airport also got in on the act, erecting a 13m-high statue of Gollum in one of its main terminals, although it remains to be seen whether Smaug will receive a similar treatment for the sequel. 

The Air New Zealand staff have also paid homage to The Hobbit in a special Middle Earth-themed video which has already racked up 1.8m YouTube hits. Take a look below…

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug sees Cumberbatch’s Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman return to play Bilbo Baggins, with Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Sylvester McCoy, James Nesbitt, Andy Serkis and Stephen Fry among those starring alongside him.