One of the greatest characters in "The Hobbit" is the dragon who lies at the heart of the quest that takes Bilbo Baggins from the comfort of the Shire to the heart of the Misty Mountains, and since they decided to make "The Hobbit," I have been waiting to hear who they would announce to play Smaug.

When Guillermo Del Toro was attached, I think there was at least a 60% chance Ron Perlman was the man for the job, but with Peter Jackson casting as wide a net as he has for casting on the films, I figured it would be someone surprising and possibly out of left field.  For those of us who are fans of "Sherlock," the BBC series that stars Martin Freeman, already cast as Bilbo, the announcement today is one of the coolest possible choices.

Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch will play Smaug, both as a voice and through performance capture for the face, and it strikes me as a tremendous choice.

What's really interesting about the reporting done by Mike Fleming today is that he suggests Cumberbatch will also play the Necromancer, a somewhat minor character in "The Hobbit" who plays a fairly major role in the overall saga of Middle-Earth.  If you don't know the books, I would suggest you not read any further and simply enjoy the news about the casting.

But for those of you who are Tolkien freaks, you may already be freaking out over the significance of this revelation.  In the book, there is talk of how the White Council had to drive The Necromancer out of Dol Guldur, deep in the heart of Mirkwood.  It's relayed as a story that Gandalf tells.  But that character is actually one of the incarnations of Sauron, and his stop in Mirkwood is just one part of his character's dark and awful history.  If they're going to show the White Council and Gandalf actually go head to head with him in one of the two films, that's exciting and fairly significant.  It means we're going to see Sauron in human form, something that never happened in "Lord Of The Rings."  And if they're going to show us the battle with the White Council, maybe we'll get some earlier scenes to establish just how much Mirkwood has changed while the Necromancer lives there.  Cool stuff.

But then to also have Cumberbatch play Smaug?  Awesome.  I was laughing the other day when they announced that Russell Crowe will be playing Jor-El because I love what that accidentally means thanks to the casting of Kevin Costner as Pa Kent.  That means in the new "Superman" film, Robin Hood will send his baby away from the dying Krypton to be raised on Earth… by Robin Hood.  And now, with this announcement, we're going to have some great Watson/Sherlock scenes where Watson is a midget with hairy feet and Sherlock is a dragon.  Awesome.

There was more "Hobbit" casting news today, and if you don't know Bard the Bowman as a character, let's just say he's going to have a very important date with Smaug the Dragon.

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" will be in theaters December 14, 2012.
"The Hobbit: There And Back Again" will be in theaters December 13, 2012.