Brother Review

brother.pngOakland-based filmmaker Alrik Bursell just released his new short film Brother at the Oakland International Film Festival. It’s about a lying cheating boyfriend who gets in trouble when his girlfriend’s brother comes to visit.
 
Genre: Horror
Time: 10 minutes
Parental Guide: Rated “R” for language, sexual images, and gore

 

 

Review:

Undoubtedly one of Brother‘s key strengths is its excellent cast. Each of the three lead actors bring a strong sense of character and personality to their role. David O’Donnell’s Australian loser boyfriend carries the right amount of sleaze and smug egotism. Dezi Soley plays a believable and seemingly innocent woman who thinks she’s found true love. And last but not least, Capone Lee is captivating as Lou, the overly protective brother who harbors dark impulses underneath his rapidly shrinking composure.
 
In one scene O’Donnell lounges on the couch playing video games on an impossibly large TV mounted on the wall. The television fills the center of the frame and remains there, glowing in the background even as things, well, escalate. It’s a simple visual reminder that yes, this character is a lazy moron more interested in playing games who doesn’t see how deeply undeserving he is of his woman.
 
Horror is a punitive genre. We know from the outset that the loser boyfriend can be no match for Lou’s intimidating physical presence. The eventual scene of punishment is brutal and surprising, transporting us from the realm of realism straight over the edge into the stuff of nightmares. Oh yeah, and the special effects aren’t half bad either.
 
The opening shot (which appears to be filmed at the always beautiful Lake Merritt) helps establish this as a distinctly Oakland-based story. This is reinforced by the interiors which convey the unique charm of the East Bay’s cosy older buildings. There is something powerful about watching a film shot in your backyard rather than a generic LA stand in. I’m reminded of the show Parenthood, which takes place in Berkeley yet features huge spacious houses and evokes none of the feel of the actual Bay Area. It’s great to see places you know and recognize up on screen.
 
Congratulations to Alrik and his collaborators for creating another spooky little gem. From all appearances, he’s quite ready to make his feature debut with The Alternate. I can’t wait.
 
Check out other links to his work below:

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

bvs

It’s finally here. After years of waiting we’re finally getting a team up movie featuring the most iconic superheroes on the planet. So far the reviews have been pretty brutal. Is the movie any good?

Spoiler alert: I love this movie.

0:00 – My thoughts before watching the movie

16:00 – Non-spoiler Review

26:00 – Spoiler-filled Review

Listen to Episode #36 below – iTunesStitchermp3

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

star warsStar Wars: The Force Awakens takes the franchise in a fresh new direction. With a dash of lens flare and more than a hint of genius, J.J. Abrams has managed to create a fascinating blend of new characters, exotic locales, and non-stop nostalgia that delivers a higher concentration of dopamine than scientists ever though possible. It’s enough to make you forget the prequels altogether.

I had high hopes for this film and I’m happy to confess that despite some questionable creative decisions and a few unexpected but really not that unexpected plot twists, Episode VII does not disappoint.

Ok I haven’t actually seen the movie yet, but I just couldn’t wait to review it anyway. Listen to the review below.

Inside Out and the Purpose of Sadness

  
Total Spoilers for Inside Out ahead!

Pixar’s latest is curiously simple in its execution. The main plot revolves around a pair of personified emotions, Joy and Sadness, as they wander through the collapsing mental world of an 11 year old girl. While the actual locations of their journey are rather disposable, a dream production studio here and an abstract thought void there, what drives the deeper story is how all the events happening in the cartoonish world of the mind affects the little girl in turmoil.

While the always bubbly Joy is the protagonist of the film, the setting (and stakes) are firmly centered on Riley and her heartrending move from the warm feels of Minnesota to the discomforting strangeness of San Francisco. And Joy, the leader and cheerleader of Riley’s emotions, finally hits a wall finding herself unable to keep Riley happy in the midst of overwhelming disappointment and loss.

At the beginning of the film, Joy introduces each emotion and explains their purpose. However she cannot think of a reason or function for Sadness. Her whole role, she believes, is to shut out any sad feelings and create only happy memories for Riley. It is these continually happy days that preserve Riley’s personality islands which Joy has worked so hard to build and maintain.

In one of the film’s more inspired decisions, Riley’s memories are revealed to be flowing spheres that roll into place and light up with whatever color emotion they represent. There is something quite satisfying how a happy moment leads to a new yellow ball or a sad moment brings a rolling blue ball. My two year old decided they were Easter Eggs.

Memories are such intangible things. Feelings are such fleeting things. Animating them with weight and mass gives them legitimacy. It shows us that what is going on inside us is real, important, and valid.

What is most touching about the film is how it tries to show an honest portrayal of what it looks like to possess a human mind, a mysterious web of connections inside our brain that confounds even those who study it. Is it really possible for someone with emotions to ever fully understand emotions?

I found myself in the days after the film getting angry, feeling sad, and finding joy. I can see the little buttons going off in my head seemingly controlled by tiny forces outside of my jurisdiction. I also see it in my family, often quite hilariously.

The finale is the right kind of ending for such an ambitious idea like this. It has a message and one that is not easy to learn or apply. Joy accepts that she cannot simply force Riley to be happy but that she needs to let her grieve the loss of her Minnesota childhood. Things will never be the same. Her pure childlike joy cannot be recreated as it once was. She is growing up, maturing, and realizing that life is more complicated than she once thought.

Uninterrupted joy is no longer possible. And sadness is not something that can be suppressed and avoided. Joy begins to remember that Riley’s happiest moments were often preceded first by sadness. There is a purpose for sadness. It allows us to let go of things we can’t hold onto. It helps break down the islands that we used to rely on that are no longer stable so that we can build new ones. And most of all sadness makes us vulnerable and dependent on others, bringing us closer to other people in a way that happiness alone never can.

Inside Out is painfully honest in its approach, reminding us that life is not made up of Goofball Islands and instead laden with unexpected mixtures of both joy and sadness, anger and disgust, fear and other moments forgotten along the way.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Riley’s mind to accept is the deep sense of loss that her transformation from child to adult takes on her imagination. This is represented best by the breakout character Bing Bong, her imaginary friend whose flying rainbow wagon have long since been ignored.

When Bing Bong faded away disappearing into oblivion, my daughter looked up at me and asked worriedly, “Where did he go?” She is too young to understand the complicated mechanics of memories or the narrative device of the heroic sacrifice, but she was concerned just the same wondering if Bing Bong was okay, if he was going to come back. I replied with the only words I could think of that would make sense to her little mind. “He went bye bye.”

Borassic World

If you liked Jurassic World, feel free to stop reading right now. Films are a very subjective experience and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But from here on out, I’m going to present an almost entirely negative review of what I found to be a non-terrific and terribly boring movie. If reading something like this will diminish your enjoyment of the film, you have been warned.

Also, many spoilers ahead.

The only real problem I have with Jurassic World is that I did not enjoy it. I thought it was boring. And I don’t mean that in a purely logical or analytical way. I mean that I was literally taken out of the experience and unable to get lost in the magic of the story because so many dumb things kept happening. I could not suspend my disbelief for longer than a few minutes at a time because of the lazy cliched storytelling happening in front of my eyes.

Now to give you some background, yes I love original Jurassic Park. I also love The Lost World. I even enjoy approximately half of the third one. I’m not a Jurassic Park purist by any means who believes that Jurassic World must be as good as the original to have any merit. I absolutely love big dumb blockbusters like Pacific Rim and one or two of the Transformers movies. I love audience-starved Tom Cruise vehicles like Jack Reacher, Oblivion, and Edge of Tomorrow. I like every superhero movie ever made. If there’s anyone who should like a Jurassic Park sequel, it is me. I’m standing right here.

While everyone has been hyped for Age of Ultron and The Force Awakens, I have been patiently sitting here waiting for Jurassic World and hoping that it can bring even a tiny fraction of the wonder, thrills, and ingenuity that made Jurassic Park so beloved. Unfortunately Jurassic World fails on every front. I wouldn’t normally call out a movie like this except for the fact that people seem to have eaten it up in droves and decided it is a good movie. It isn’t.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying it, but the movie was consistently and unforgivably stupid when it really didn’t have to be. The first Jurassic Park was good, enjoyable, and scary without being stupid. There is absolutely no reason that Jurassic World should have to be dumb to be good. Why is that even acceptable? I’ve read many of the so-called fresh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes who point out its dumbness and still give it a passing grade and the fact that we can collectively give this movie a pass despite some pretty awful storytelling, horribly cliched characters, and a pervasive sense of mediocrity should be more concerning to anyone who cares about cinema.

Is this what we want in our movies? When we could be asking for more thoughtful engaging blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, why would want to settle for the big dumb dino movie?

So let me set the record straight. I don’t like this movie but I have reasons. I’m not trying to simply give a knee-jerk reaction but I really do think we deserve better. I love plenty of movies with questionable merits but there are certain aspects of Jurassic World that are just not good. And by not good I mean they were so awful that they took me out of the movie watching experience.

Think for a second at the driving force behind the whole plot. The creation and subsequent escape of Indominus Rex. How does she get out? They literally leave the door open. That’s it.

She leaves some scratch marks on a supposedly unclimbable wall and hides her thermal signature and everyone assumes she is out. Do they check her tracking monitor? Nope. Do they spend more time peering into the cage? Nope. Do they send a cheaply available drone or even a remote control car with a camera duct-taped to its back to poke around? No, they leave the doors wide open and go into look for her.

If there is any chance at all that she is still in there, shouldn’t they close the doors? If there is no chance she is in there, why bother going in there at all? Either way, that door should never be left open ever ever ever. There is never any reason for that door to be open.

What is that mantra NASA has about how they keep people alive in space? Backup systems. Your engine fails, use the backup one. Your oxygen filter fails, guess what we brought a spare.

Jurassic World creates a super killer dinosaur and has ONE safety door. No electrified fence. No outer wall. Even the most basic of prisons have multiple locked doors to keep inmates in. But not in Jurassic World.

I don’t mean to beat this point to death, but the larger issue is a storytelling one. In Jurassic Park the inciting incident is an issue of greed and callousness combined with hubris. Hammond doesn’t respect the power of the creatures he brought to life and Dennis Nedry cripples the park’s security features to cover his escape with the embryos. Nedry sabotages the park on purpose causing all the subsequence dinosaur attacks.

In Jurassic World no one sabotages the park. The dinosaur just outwits some fairly stupid people. Yes they did make it more dangerous and more powerful on purpose, but it actually makes an animal look smarter than humans. And since even smart animals are still pretty dumb, that makes the humans in this movie look quite stupid.

If Jurassic Park relies on hubris and greed to get the dinos out, Jurassic World relies on a comedy of errors like leaving the fence open, sensors that don’t work, and an overconfident billionaire helicopter pilot who is as charming as he is reckless. 

The even larger point is that Jurassic World is not really concerned with ideas in the way that the original was. It takes a few underdeveloped ideas, like corporate greed, consumer apathy, animal rights, and aggressive militarization and mashes them all together with scenes we’ve already scene before in other better movies like Aliens, Godzilla, and Indiana Jones.

The movie unconvincingly criticizes corporate greed all while offering product placement from Starbucks to Brookstone and racking up profits for a studio awash in profits from 2015 smashes like Furious 7, 50 Shades of Grey, Pitch Perfect 3, and now the film that just broke domestic and worldwide opening weekend records and topped both Avengers movies.

Yet I could forgive all that if the movie was enjoyable or at least competent in its own right. But it’s not.

Let’s take a simple question like who is the main character of the film. Easy right? Well according to the director Colin Trevorrow that would be Bryce Dallas Howard. However if I had never seen the movie and only seen trailers or read headlines, by gosh I could have sworn that it was Chris Pratt. 

Pop quiz! Without cheating what is the name of the Bryce Dallas Howard’s character?

What? You don’t know! This is a movie about dinosaurs so who cares, right? We’ll save all the good human characters for other movies.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire Dearing, a character begins the movie as a thoroughly unlikeable workaholic park manager. She is dedicated to extracting more profits out of the park’s assets by boosting attendance. She has none of the wonder or appreciation (read: humanity) that have defined other characters in this series. She neglects her nephews, doesn’t want to have kids, and doesn’t even want to evacuate the park because she cares only about her job even to the point of people dying violent dinosaur deaths. Last I checked that will get you life without parole.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a flawed protagonist but there is something wrong with an unrelatable unlikeable one. Her flaws are so great  that the movie trailers decides to introduce is Chris Pratt because he is so much cooler. Audiences have seemed to agreed, praising Pratt’s performance and largely ignoring Howard’s more central role.

When the filmmaker thinks Claire is the protagonist but the audience think Chris Pratt is, you have a problem. Why does the director Colin Trevorrow think Claire is the protagonist? Well Chris Pratt has no character arc and he’s not even around at the beginning of the film. That would be Claire. She’s the one we are supposed to relate to, she is the one who changes over the course of the story, and she is the one who gets a big heroic moment at the end. She is also the one that connects all the other characters together like the two kids lost in the park, the owner of the park, that poor devoured assistant, and those woefully undeveloped characters in the control room. 

Part of the problem is Bryce Dallas Howard. She envisioned this character as something different than what Trevorrow did. Everyone complained about Claire running around in heels but Trevorrow actually asked Howard to take them off and she refused. Why? She thought they represented her character’s femininity and that giving them up would take away part of who her character was. I admire the sensibility but there is no subtlety in Howard’s performance. She overplayed this and not just with the heels but by creating a character that has no charm or basic appeal. The fact that Chris Pratt is funny and winsome should not mean that Bryce Dallas Howard is stuffy and repressed. I will say that Claire is much more likeable by the end of the film but the fact that Trevorrow and Howard choose to start her off as such a Kate Capshaw caricature is really silly. Claire is the main character, but we can’t wait for her to get out of the way because she is so poorly written and directed.

If Trevorrow thought Claire’s heels should come off but instead gave in to Howard, what does that show us about the direction of Claire’s character? Dare I mention that Trevorrow is a newbie director and Howard’s dad is the acclaimed director Ron Howard? I’ve always liked Howard but as an actress she seems very limited by the somewhat girly roles she has been given. All of the movies she is known for have pretty much been creative disasters. Perhaps she deserved to play a better, more nuanced Claire than the one she was handed. It’s not about heels or no heels. It’s about writers and directors putting as much time and thought into their female characters as they do their male characters. Even Jake Johnson’s super minor character with his vintage t-shirt and messy desk was twice as relatable as Claire the theoretical main character.

I wish I was done but there’s more unfortunately.

With the exception of Indominus Rex herself, I thought that the CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic World looked pretty terrible. They were slightly better than a Syfy original movie, and certainly didn’t come off as realistic. I don’t actually believe that the animators got lazy, but I think that the movie overrelied on CGI and that by trying to put it in every shot, it meant that the shots we did get were not up to the standard they could have been.

I went home on Saturday night after watching Jurassic World and rewatched the original from 1993. The CGI looked better in that film than this one. The reason? There are very few CGI shots in that film and so they sincerely tried their hardest to make them look believable. You would need tens of millions more just to make the effects look good (which they might actually do in the sequel).

Another problem was the set pieces. There were also no good action set pieces in this movies. To me this is the absolute worst crime a summer blockbuster can commit. Even the Hobbit movies have a few redeeming action bits or creature moments in each of them enough to justify their existence to their critics.

This movie barely had any dinosaurs! I-Rex doesn’t count.

I count maybe one good set piece in the entire movie. The Hamster ball sequence. It was pretty good. It was the only slightly scary (read: not scary at all) moment in the whole movie. The boys are trapped in a glass dome and right behind them is Indominus Rex.

This is already problematic however for one big glaring reason, why are the kids here in the first place? They have wandered off the path. Why have they wandered? Because in Jurassic World you are allowed to roam around freely bumping into living dinosaurs and circumvent evacuation protocols all because you watched a 20 second clip of Jimmy Fallon goofing off like he always does.

How could anyone in any theme park allow this sort of thing even without dinosaurs? Free roaming hamster balls with no safety restrictions and completely independent rider controls? There is no ride like that anywhere because of the insane amount of lawsuits it would incur.

But wait a second, hold the phone. I’ve seen this scary hamster ball scene already. This is an exact ripoff of the T-Rex scene in Jurassic Park except this time there is no long tense build up, no rippling water glass, no protracted survival sequence with misplaced flares, no drowning in mud, no cars falling out of trees, and not even a bloodsucking lawyer on a toilet. It is literally a pinball machine with ankylosaurs and Indominus Rex running away or losing interest or something.

When your best action scene is copied from another movie and is only a fraction the scariness, that’s just weak sauce.

What other cool action set pieces do we get? 

There is the I-Rex escape which as we have already mentioned is tainted in stupidity. They show off the big bad of the movie way too early. It’s worse than the trailers actually which pretty much only saved the final battle.

There is the battle in the forest between the park’s paramilitary-style security and I-Rex which is again a ripoff of more superior films that show people dying through flatlining heart monitors. I-Rex does give us a very cool camouflage reveal which is used exactly one time in the movie and never referred to or used again. Cuttlefish can only do it once per lifetime I suppose.

One of the big money shots from the trailers is the helicopter crash through the aviary. That leads eventually to a big swarm of pteranodons(?) who all head directly to the where the evacuated crowds are gathered. They fly straight there as if guided by an unseen hand (read: Colin Trevorrow ). That sequence plays more like a generic monster movie than a Jurassic Park film but as long as there’s more product placement in there I’m sure the audience will be thinking more about their next vanilla latte than how utterly unscary and uninteresting this attack is. How sad is it that the pterodactyl sequence in Jurassic Park III was 10 times better and more exciting than this one.

Only two candidates left for awesome set pieces but neither of them deliver.

The first is the raptor hunt where Owen (Chris Pratt) leads his raptor team to hunt down I-Rex. In one of the only cool decisions in movie, the raptors switch sides when they find out I-Rex is part raptor. For a few moments the movie is a little bit awesome as the raptors turn against the humans. This is short-lived however because it soon turns into a boring truck chase where raptors can do impossible things like break glass windows with the side of their heads at 60 mph. This scene ends up with the raptors giving up because the movie has just given up at this point and needs to get to their finale so that they can clear out the theater for the next showing.

The big bad climax of the film is two parts! Why have one battle when you can have two? Owen convinces the raptors (all of which are perfectly fine from their last gunfight except for one blown up by an RPG) to change sides yet again and commit suicide by I-Rex.

Here’s the thing. Raptors are smart. They are not dumb. They don’t commit suicide by trying to kill something 20 times their size. All pack predators know this. If your prey gives you too much trouble, you cut your losses and run away and live to fight another day. All the raptors except Blue are mercilessly killed. They are all completely CGI and look less believable than any of the cool puppet raptors in any of the other movies so we don’t mourn their deaths or even care because this is exactly the pointless dino carnage we all clamored for.

Then Claire gets out her flares (callback to the good T-Rex scene in the original!) and a very unrecognizable CGI T-Rex lumbers out and immediately has a fake-looking but entirely predictable wrestling match with I-Rex which ends with a mosasaur meal that yet again highlights the insanely inadequate security measures that do not exist in this fake park.

I forgot to mention there is a villain. He wants to use the raptors as weapons and then later one of them eats his hand. He is played by the guy who played Wilson Fisk in Daredevil and wow is it hard to watch him go from one of the best textured and sympathetic villains of all time to the most cardboard stock character in recent memory.

We feel more sad for the puppet sauropod and his CGI brothers murdered by the I-Rex than any of the human characters who lived through or died in this tragedy.

The sad thing is that Colin Trevorrow really tried. He devoted years of his life to this project. His sweat and blood are up there on the screen. He gave it his best and it’s far better than what you or I could come up with. He tried but now he is being handed out accolades and a feeling of accomplishment he doesn’t deserve. That’s not his fault. That is the studio’s. They set him up to fail. They picked an inexperienced director with no chips on the table and assigned him a reboot to a beloved franchise that even my mom wanted to see.

And he made a movie just good enough to satisfy everyone and their mom but his next movie is going suck. He will be ripped apart and humiliated because this time he got a free pass just for making a movie that was better than Jurassic Park III.

The reality is that Trevorrow is a rookie director. He doesn’t have the same command of filmmaking and storytelling that his more experienced and more tested peers have developed. He made an indie film and now struck gold with great reviews, great word-of-mouth, and history-breaking box office receipts.

But a single okay indie film and one middling but nostalgia-heavy blockbuster does not a promising director make. From the interviews I’ve read and listened to, it truly does sound like Trevorrow completely poured himself into this project and tried to make it the best that it could be. But it doesn’t change any of my above points. This movie is bad. No matter how many people like it or overlook its flaws, this is still not the type of movie we want to see Hollywood make. By liking this movie we are telling them that we want more crappy sequels, more stupid dino battles, more flat annoying characters, more gaping plot holes, bigger louder prettier things crashing into other things.

We wanted to see dinosaurs so badly that we set up Trevorrow for failure and ruin by commending his dumb movie instead of treating it with measured criticism and review. Trevorrow seems like a really smart guy who put his hand to the plow and came up with the best possible movie he could. He said he wanted to make a “kick ass movie” but we never asked for anything more and that is what we got and that is what we will keep getting.

People seem to admit this movie was dumb (but still GOOD amirite??) but at this point I think maybe the movie is smarter than we are.

A Final Overview: The Battle of the Five Armies

bilbo and thorin

If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware that I have devoted extensive time to writing about the Hobbit trilogy. By now everyone knows that this series was never intended to be a straightforward retelling of the book but rather a modern fantasy epic using the style and appendices of The Lord of the Rings. While the accusations of narrative bloat and creative shortcomings have accompanied many reviews of the new trilogy, it’s easy to forget that the glory of Lord of the Rings is not without its own complications.

When I saw The Fellowship of the Ring I was a high school freshman several months after September 11 rocked the nation. It was the most exciting, imaginative, and beautiful movie I had ever seen. I went back and saw it in the theater two more times. But many of the college students I talk to today have never seen Lord of the Rings nor are interested in doing so. The Return of the King‘s famous Oscar sweep in 2004 might as well be ancient history to them. The first trilogy despite it many merits still struggles to have an appeal outside of genre fans.

And long before the complaints about Radagast and Tauriel began rolling in, Tolkien purists remained rather vigilant about the numerous changes from the books. Aragorn wasn’t supposed to be self-doubting. Tom Bombadil wasn’t an expendable side character. Gimli was never supposed to play for comic relief. Despite spawning a widespread fanbase and garnering academy approval, Peter Jackson’s first trilogy had its own share of concerns. For many adult filmgoers, this whole project was simply too long, too slow, and too incomprehensible.

Holding up Lord of the Rings as the golden standard and The Hobbit films as its less inspired relative obscures several facts. The young people who most needed fantasy in 2001 are all grown up and the new generation most likely to relate to this genre have found a replacement in Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games. It is also very unlikely that the nostalgic value we have for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, and other fond series of our youth will ever be matched by the next new thing that comes out. We are simply more discerning, self-aware, and grown up than we once were to fall for the charms of something like a Hobbit movie.

It was true however that Lord of the Rings stood the test of time as the one fantasy series that defied the box office and challenged the prevailing notions of what a truly great fantasy epic could be. Out of New Zealand’s bootstrapped film industry a worldwide phenomenon had been born. Fans enthusiastically rewatched the extended editions every year, dressed up as their favorite characters, and evangelized the cause of a cinematic Middle Earth. Since there was really was no other easily adaptable or legally accessible Tolkien work out there, it really came down to The Hobbit as the last and only chance to further this cinematic legacy.

After an extensive period of working out the movie rights to a film adaptation of The Hobbit, a bitter lawsuit between Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema, and even a labor dispute settled by national legislation, Guillermo Del Toro arrived as the man to carry forth this vision and expand it in a different direction. Working alongside Peter Jackson’s team, he would have made a fascinating and unmistakably personal adaptation of The Hobbit. But months of production setbacks cut his dream short, also freeing him to launch the world of Pacific Rim. With the promise of The Hobbit films fading fast, co-writer and producer Peter Jackson stepped in as director and gave the project the impetus it needed to get a green light.

Whereas Jackson had spent three years on pre-production for Lord the Rings, now he had only months before filming was set to begin. Creatures that Guillermo had designed no longer fit in with Jackson’s directorial vision and had to be started over from scratch. Pre-production, production, and post-production would all have to happen simultaneously for these films to get finished on time. The luxury of careful planning that had accompanied the filmmakers in the first trilogy were simply not there for the second. Creature designs like the goblins that were intended to be shot in live action tested poorly and were changed to motion capture. Several crucial design pieces like Azog and Smaug did not get finished until shockingly late into post-production.

The summer before An Unexpected Journey premiered, Jackson was looking over their early cuts of the film and decided that they had much more material than could easily fit into a trim two-part story. Even though The Hobbit is a relatively short book, it includes many characters, encounters, and locations worthy of expanding upon. The thirteen dwarves alone would require a significant amount of screentime to avoid being mere caricatures. Archetypal figures like Bard, the Master, and the king of the Woodelves would need additional time to fully flesh out. And it was not without precedent to expand upon such a story.

After publishing Lord of the Rings, Tolkien himself had gone back to The Hobbit and altered the significance of Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum to highlight the significance of the One Ring. He also had greatly expanded upon the backstory of Thorin Oakenshield’s quest to retake Erebor in the appendices of Return of the King. Drawing inspiration from these changes, Jackson and his writing team of Philippa Boyens and his wife Fran Walsh split up their two part Hobbit film into three films. To do this, they completely rewrote their scripts to create a new third script, The Desolation of Smaug. Suddenly the duology’s lightly developed characters like Tauriel and Bard would be given more lines to be filmed during reshoots. Legolas would be given more screen time. And Gandalf’s mysterious off-screen adventures apart from the Company would be included in full, demanding the return of iconic members of the White Council.

Would these changes work? Could the lightweight children’s story handle the narrative equivalent of heavy steroids to bring it up to the stature of the first trilogy? While there are plenty of issues to talk about here, I think we should first applaud and admire Jackson’s ambitious attempt to craft a worthy prequel and in some small sense continue the Professor’s work. There is much to so much appreciate here in this three-film marriage of story, acting, cinematography, stunt work, animation, costume design, and scoring. And even if many do not like the final result, it’s clear that most have at the very least decided to go watch this last entry in theaters anyway.

The Hobbit films on a whole don’t manage to reach the heights of The Lord of the Rings. But that’s okay. I’m not sure they needed to. This trilogy has both the benefits and constraints of being a studio production. It’s enriched by the immense talent of hardworking Kiwis, its characters embodied by fine actors, its universe crafted by an expert filmmaking crew. If not a perfect follow up to the first trilogy, The Hobbit can only be intended to be enjoyable entertainment for a global audience. Creating an epic prequel trilogy worthy of The Lord of the Rings seems just as daunting as filming of the notoriously “unfilmable” Lord of the Rings itself. It really shouldn’t be possible nor would it be wise to expect lightning to strike twice.

My problem with most negative reviews of The Hobbit films is that rarely do they take these natural limitations into consideration. It’s strange not to care that the production was rushed or that the source material was limited, but still demand a better movie. Pessimists assume that Jackson split the films into three to make more money, that the trilogy itself is an act of creative hubris, and the story changes fundamentally dishonor Tolkien’s printed words by expanding upon them. Such criticism assumes the worst of Jackson and his writing team for trying.

To be fair, there is much Hobbit merchandise surrounding the project. Someone clearly made a lot of money on this venture. However Peter Jackson is probably already rich enough to not have to work long hard days and nights over something he doesn’t truly care for. Any careful observer would know that, for whatever their faults, Jackson, Boyens, and Walsh would not purposefully water down their scripts just to milk the last few dollars out of a nostalgic fanbase. Perhaps an eager studio might, but not the people giving their blood, sweat, and tears every day for four years. Why are we so afraid to give them the benefit of the doubt?

One reason is that there are many more problematic issues with The Hobbit trilogy than there was with Lord of the Rings. The formerly rare big budget fantasy epic is now much more common than it was in 2001. Disney has been releasing one large scale live action fantasy every year. The restrained CGI of the first trilogy is now greatly overused at the expense of the story, The Hobbit films being no exception. The astonished audiences who saw Lord of the Rings in theaters are now older, more cynical, and less impressed by movies in general having long since realized that nothing will quite capture their imaginations like the first time they watched Star Wars as a kid.

With two divisive Hobbit movies down, what could The Battle of the Five Armies possibly offer? What would a successful end to such an ambitious but inferior trilogy even look like?

Now that we have finally seen the third and final film, it looks like we know. As it stands, cutting out huge portions of a long book seems much easier than expanding and developing a short one. While The Hobbit films often capture the magic and feel of Middle Earth and excels in giving us fresh new characters and locales to enjoy, they also suffer from the relatively simplistic undergirding narrative of the book.

If there is one major issue with The Battle of the Five Armies, it is the lack of narrative payoff for everything that we have seen in the last two films. Despite the epic feel and nature of this revisionist Hobbit story, it is at its heart still too faithful to the events Tolkien wrote. The Arkenstone is just a shiny gem, nothing as instrumental as a ruling ring of power. The Necromancer is just an offscreen menace shrouded in mystery, not a true character. Thorin hiding in Erebor not helping his kin seems out of place. Bilbo, the purported main character, is really just along for the ride and doesn’t having much at stake in the outcome of the climatic battle.

It was thought that there would be major story reasons for things like the addition of Azog, the Ringwraiths, Radagast, the White Council, Legolas, Tauriel, and even Sauron himself. It turns out that none of them matter quite as much as they should have.Instead of serving as acceptable background elements, one or two them might have been revelatory. From the massive build up to Dol Guldur, most people probably expected a development beyond “Look, Sauron is back!”

Another concern is that the true antagonist of the series is dead before the title credits. Smaug is a masterful villain and an impressive enemy, but his death leaves one huge hole to fill. This is issue that stems directly from the book. Arguably it would be much more interesting to have a dragon actually fight in the big battle. To overcome this challenge, the filmmakers allow Smaug’s evil to persist even after his death through Thorin’s dragon-sickness. The final film takes a leap and subtly departs from the wild adventures Bilbo and becomes much more the Shakespearean tragedy of Thorin Oakenshield.

Unlike Aragorn, this king’s journey does not end with a rightful throne, a beautiful queen, and a promising heir. His descent into total paranoia is a far cry from the ruggedly inspiring leader we saw in the prologue fighting outside the gates of Moria or guiding the exiles through the wilderness. Jackson’s imaginative portrayal of this mental and moral decay is masterfully achieved in the psychedelic sequences inside the halls of Erebor. He is a king slowly gone mad, corrupted by greed, only finding redemption at the last moment.  While we do get the sense that the filmmakers are fighting an uphill battle, we see them make the best of a story that kills off its most interesting villain long before the final act. The Hobbit films are necessarily as much or more about Thorin than Bilbo. While Thorin may not be as charismatic as Aragorn or as heartwarming as Frodo, he is an unforgettable and valuable protagonist in this reimagined Middle Earth saga.

There are hints floating around online that Jackson was forced by the studio to trim down this final film so that theaters could fit in more showings and generate more money. If this is true, it is unfortunate because The Hobbit finale needed much more story resolution than what we get in the completed film. No where is this more evident than in the deaths of Kili, Fili, and Thorin. In particular Fili, the heir to the throne after his bachelor uncle, received little attention both before and after his death. For a character that has been with us for three films, albeit somewhat on the sidelines, he could have been greatly improved with some additional dialogue and screen time. But perhaps what the three royal Dwarves needed most of all, and what was sorely missed, was a funeral scene and a heartfelt acknowledgement by Bilbo and the other dwarves who would be most impacted by this great loss. For whatever reason, these deaths are quickly passed over in the film leaving the audience little time to process and mourn their passing. This brings up a more salient point about the third film in general.

It is useful to think of The Battle of the Five Armies as a discontinuing of the story that begin at Bag End and something else altogether. The story of the dwarven company of Thorin Oakenshield effectively ends once the dragon is slain and Erebor is reclaimed. Their goal is accomplished. However what has unfolded along the way is somewhat divorced from what came before. While the dwarves do not care much for the plight of the men of the lake, Bard’s story is only halfway done once Smaug is slain. The same goes for Thranduil who sees a ripe opportunity to reclaim the white gems inside Erebor. And behind all this is Sauron who secretly has been marshaling his armies to gain a strategic position in the North and has possibly even recruited a dragon to his cause.

This is not an invention of Jackson but a later point made by Tolkien in a writing called The Quest for Erebor found in the appendices. While the simpler story of the dwarves increasingly becomes tangential to the more comprehensive story of the woodelves, the lakemen, and Sauron’s armies, we are seeing a massive narrative shift under way. This is by design. There is a reason that for years the filmmakers have occasionally referred to the second (now third) film as a “bridge film.” Using Tolkien’s own words as a starting point, the writers have taken The Battle of the Five Armies and used it to tell the story of the larger geopolitical forces at work in Middle Earth rather than the smaller story of the titular hobbit and Thorin’s largely self-centered quest.

This is a film that requires two endings, not one. We need a proper resolution for the Company of Thorin and a completely different one for the men, elves, and dwarves who have staked so much in battle. The first two films denied us payoff for so long, tantalizing us with future developments like the White Council, the Arkenstone, the addition of Tauriel and Legolas, and Azog’s return from the dead that it ultimately leaves us wondering how all of it is supposed to fit together. The final answer is uncertain and it is little use to hope that the extended edition will sort any of this out. It turns out that everything new that was added really just was padding and that the basic story of the book is still the same basic story of the films. Such padding isn’t necessarily bad – I liked Tauriel, Radagast, Azog, et. – but I did hope that it was all going to build into something more.

That is not however to say that I think the trilogy and its final entry are a failure. I find them massively enjoyable, rewatchable, entertaining, heartwarming, and finely crafted. In many ways I prefer them to Lord of the Rings for their lightheartedness and their great spirit of adventure. Upon watching the credits close over The Battle of the Five Armies, I find much to like about the third film.

One of the highlights of the film is the Dol Guldur sequence, perhaps the most obvious example of a subplot in recent memory. In An Unexpected Journey we were teased with the resurrection of the Witch-king, the possible return of Sauron, and a new fortress based at Dol Guldur. However even more exciting was the reality that the White Council would lead an assault there as recorded in the appendices. Galadriel’s promise of help was a perfect indicator that this was going to happen. Gandalf and Radagast further confirm that the Nazgul have escaped their graves in The Desolation of Smaug. The extended edition ends with Gandalf discovering Thrain, confirming Smaug’s alliance with Sauron, and being defeated by the Dark Lord himself. When Galadriel, Elrond, Saruman, and Radagast reach Dol Gulur, indeed they witness for themselves the resurgent Sauron and his spectral lieutenants.

Luckily they happen to be some of the most powerful beings in Middle Earth. Elrond and Saruman deftly counter the nine during a rapidfire series of attacks. Galadriel revives the fallen wizard and delivers him to the safety of Radagast’s sled. With the Nazgul dispatched, Galadriel confronts the Dark Lord herself and drives him off in a frenetic supernatural battle of wills. While not as stylish as the dark/light battle of Gandalf and Sauron from the second movie, it accomplishes the forced retreat of Sauron from Dol Guldur to the East. The implication here is that the diminished Sauron will be less able to influence Middle Earth banished to the less centrally located stronghold of Barad Dûr. The elimination of both his headquarters and his twin orc armies in this film would seem to be deathblow to his plans, but we know it is only a setback until the ring of power can be found.

The events of Dol Gulur are concisely presented and provide a nice excuse to visit old favorites from the original trilogy. While they don’t add too much to the overall story of The Hobbit, they showcase an important development straight out of Tolkien’s mythology and a serve as a reminder to the large happenings surrounding Thorin’s quest. While this subplot is not essential to the The Hobbit, it’s too expensive to only film for the sake of an extended edition and the only real alternative was to not bother filming it at all. I’m glad they included it.

Considering The Battle of the Five Armies as a whole, I think the first two thirds of the film are spectacular and close to perfect in their execution. Even after the thrilling Smaug vs. Bard sequence, the plight of the lakemen and the arrival of Thranduil’s forces pretty much builds to an uneasy standoff between the alliance of men and elves and Thorin in his mountain. The addition of Dain and the dwarves of the Iron Hills only raises the stakes.

During this pre-battle phase of the film, Bilbo’s loyalty to Thorin is profoundly tested. Their conversations together are believably tense, leading up to his reluctant betrayal. While Bard hopes to resolve things peacefully, Thranduil seizes upon this opportunity. You really feel all the chess pieces moving around. This is fitting for what is pretty much the only Middle Earth film where the main cast doesn’t actually travel anywhere.

When the orcs finally emerge from their tunnels aided by the fabled were-worms (only hinted at in the book), the action proceeds like a smaller version of Helm’s Deep or Pellenor Fields. You can’t fault Jackson for the mostly solid fantasy battle that follows. If it doesn’t exactly match the hype of the marketing or the nostalgic perfection of Return of the King, the final product is still a league ahead of the confusing battle chaos found in most modern fantasies like Jack and the Giant Slayer, Snow White and the Huntsman, or last year’s Maleficent. The fighting tends to move throughout the course of the battle from the gates of Erebor toward and into the strategic position of Dale itself.

Perhaps what is more surprising is Jackson’s decision to set aside the battlefield altogether and instead transport Thorin to Ravenhill for his final stand against Azog. This has the unfortunate result of the relegating the battle to the background. We all pretty much expected Thorin to die on the main battlefield in heroic fashion, but instead Jackson opts for a set of isolated skirmishes away from the main armies. While in theory it was probably a smart move, it suffers in execution as the dwarves’ decision to split up seems unfounded and the string of deaths it sets off lacks the emotional impact they deserve.

After Fili and Kili are unceremoniously killed off, Thorin initiates a final duel with Azog over a frozen river. This sequence is an interesting visual choice but it just doesn’t work as well as it’s supposed to. Balancing on slabs of ice and villains emerging from beneath the ice somehow feels like less than what the final battle of this trilogy deserved. As a fan of westerns, I would much prefer the style of a prolonged standoff in the vein of Sergio Leone like they did with the end of An Unexpected Journey.

Thorin himself seems to backtrack on his character growth. For all Thorin’s other virtues, his animosity with Azog has always been motivated by revenge pure and simple. Yes, he is helping turn the tide of battle down below but Thorin has wanted this duel from the very beginning and has always chosen to retaliate against Azog’s savagery with suicidal assaults of his own. Even though Thorin doesn’t die saving anyone or sacrificing himself for a bigger cause, he does yield to Azog’s blade just in time to finish off the pale orc. At least he finished what he started. While it would have been nice to have Thorin die for some higher purpose, I suppose this way is befitting the less heroic and more turbulent character that we have already seen across these three films.

The arrival of Beorn, Radagast, and the eagles to wipe out the second army is sudden and swift. It seems like a missed opportunity. However it is true that the main thrust of the story and all its primary characters have already met their eventual fates. While more battlefield sequences with a skin-changing bear at their center might seem warranted, they could have just as easily come off as unnecessary and indulgent. At its heart this is still Bilbo and Thorin’s story after all.

In the final scenes between the dying Thorin and the hobbit who betrayed him, we get a much needed resolution that is somewhat lacking in the rest of the denouement. Thorin understands that Bilbo gave away the Arkenstone to protect him and Bilbo understands that this king under the mountain, despite many his faults and temporary insanity, remains his friend at the very end. Though evil may have cut short their time together, the bonds of loyalty they have forged together undoubtedly endures beyond the grave.

There are other clues given about the future of the other characters. While we knew that a romance between Tauriel and Kili was never going to work out, it is a bitter end for both of them. Her desire to contribute to the greater good of Middle Earth which has led her to pursue evil all the way to mountain now results in her seeing Kili die before her eyes. Oddly enough, it is the series’ great anti-hero, Thranduil, who steps in to provide her solace in her grief. The white gems that Thranduil has been seeking belong to a necklace his dead wife once wore, his last remaining reminder of her. That death has helped turn Thranduil into the cautious, mistrusting isolationist that he is. Not only has Thranduil lost his wife and been left to mourn her all his immortal days but he now has lost his son, the other last reminder of her. But it is this same sense of loss that also allows him to finally crack a bit and comfort Tauriel. While we do not know what becomes of Thranduil and Tauriel, we do see Legolas’ decision to leave the Woodland Realm for good and join the Rangers of the North.

When it is time for Bilbo to leave the dwarves and return home, we get the overwhelming sense that things can never be the same again. Erebor is reclaimed but without the line of Thror to lead it. Bilbo has succeeded as an invaluable burglar, but he has suffered deadly perils in the form of trolls, giants, spiders, and orcs, the burning of Lake-town, the madness of Thorin, his own betrayal of the dwarves, the seduction of the One Ring, and a gruesome war that has left bodies strewn across the battlefield. This has been an important journey but one with great cost. As it turns out, slaying dragons and stealing treasure is not as idyllic at they seem.

When Bilbo reaches the borders of the Shire, he is changed. Gandalf cannot accompany him any further because his true return is something only Bilbo can do on his own. Bilbo’s prime motivation for helping the dwarves has always been his love of home and his stated goal has been to help them retake their ancestral mountain. However back in Hobbiton, Bilbo’s possessions have been auctioned off and for a moment we get a glimpse of the same stuffy, fussy, uptight hobbit that we saw in the first film. Bilbo reinhabits Bag End but this time it is barren and empty. He has returned home but nothing can be the same as it once was.

Bilbo, from this point on, will be known as the odd hobbit who goes on adventures and tells tall tales of dragons and trolls. He is exceptional, unconforming, peculiar, and ageless. This is the Bilbo Baggins who will be the talk of the town for years to come. And this is the dutiful uncle who will take in a young Frodo after the unfortunate death of his parents. This hobbit may not have been at the center of events, and at times only tangentially related to the wider plots of wizards and dark lords, but he surely participated in and affected them in his own way.

If there is one thing I have learned from my many hours of rewatching, thinking about, and writing about The Hobbit films, it is that analyzing films is vastly different than watching them. A logical analytical approach to film, while useful in its own way, ultimately pales in comparison to the experience of letting a story overtake you with its own agenda and its own purposes. My memories of a film are often reductionist and never quite as good as seeing the film once again with fresh eyes. The Hobbit trilogy succeeds much more as an cinematic experience, an exercise in imagination and honest storytelling, than as a purely logical narrative on its own. The panoramic shots of Middle Earth, the array of otherworldly cultures and races, the noble plights of archetypal heroes against overwhelming evil, somehow it all comes together into a transporting effect whose real impact can only be measured in fleeting moments and intangible feelings.

In this sense, The Battle of the Five Armies works quite beautifully. It may not be as cerebral or intellectually satisfying as we might want it to be, but it nevertheless daringly touches upon the intuitive nature of fantasy offering a sweeping conclusion to the five films that have come before it. There are no perfect stories, but there are plenty of good ones. This is one of them.

Rampant Speculation on the Prologue for The Battle of the Five Armies

smaug
 
**Possible Spoilers for The Battle of the Five Armies**
 

Every single Peter Jackson Middle Earth film so far has has opened with an extensive prologue. When The Fellowship of the Ring entered theaters way back in 2001, an unfathomable amount of pressure rested on those precious opening minutes. If the audience could digest thousands of years of backstory and comprehend it, then the risky $300+ million adaptation just might work. If that opening prologue didn’t make sense, literally billions of dollars in potential revenue were at stake. Unsurprisingly the prologue concerning Sauron and the history of the ring was one of the very last sections of the film to be completed before the premiere. It worked and it’s success guaranteed a future for the two finished Middle Earth trilogies we have come this December.

It seems only natural that the sixth entry, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, would uphold this hallowed tradition. Fellowship had the Battle of Dagorlad. The Two Towers featured Gandalf’s freefall battle with the Balrog. Return of the King showed us Smeagol’s transformation into Gollum. An Unexpected Journey showcased Smaug’s destruction of Dale and Erebor. And The Desolation of Smaug took us back to Gandalf’s initial meeting with Thorin in Bree.

So what lies in store for the sixth and final visit to Middle Earth? Will there be one last prologue to continue the pattern? If so, what would it concern?
 
The following is pure speculation. These ideas are probably wrong. One or two of these I may have read somewhere else on some dark corner of the internet, but hopefully I have added my own spin on it. These possible prologues may only exist in my head, but let’s not let that fact get in the way of having a little fun anyway. Soon all shall be revealed, but for now we may imagine what is in store on December 17.
 

The Witch-King Recruits Smaug

Back in the first Hobbit film, Radagast encounters the Witch-King of Angmar in Dol Guldur at some unspecified point in the past. In the second film, Radagast and Gandalf investigate the High Fells and discover that all nine Nazgul have mysteriously disappeared from their tombs. During the conversation between Bilbo and Smaug, new details come to light that cause us to question whether Bilbo is really the dragon’s first visitor since he took Erebor. Not only does Smaug seem perfectly knowledgeable about Thorin Oakenshield and his quest, but he also clearly knows something about the One Ring and Sauron’s army in Dol Guldur.

Smaug: “A darkness is coming. It will spread to every corner of the land.”
 
Cut to Gandalf imprisoned in Dol Guldur.
 
Clearly there is some kind of collaboration between Sauron and Smaug going on. At the very least Smaug can sense the power of the ring, but more likely is that Sauron is actively recruiting the dragon to wreak havoc on the free people of the North. In An Unexpected Journey, the White Council covers this possibility:
 

Galadriel: The dragon has long been on your mind.

 

Gandalf: This is true, my lady. Smaug owes allegiance to no one, but if he should side with the enemy, a dragon could be used to terrible effect.

 
Understanding the high likelihood of such a dark alliance, it would be faintly possible that the prologue for The Battle of the Five Armies could feature Sauron’s initial attempt to sway Smaug over to his side. We already know that the Witch-King is out there somewhere doing Sauron’s bidding. Especially with his seeming ability to dematerialize and pass through solid objects, the Witch-King would be the perfect agent to penetrate the sealed walls of Erebor.
 
After showing their sinister dealings in the dark, the prologue could cut right back to the dragon as he razes Lake-town into ash and embers. This would get us right back into the action of the non-stop thriller that will be The Battle of the Five Armies.
 

Gandalf Finds Thrain

 
We were teased in trailers for both AUJ and DOS a scene in Dol Guldur where a wandering Gandalf encounters a raving mad Thrain jumping down upon him from above. This is clearly the moment where Gandalf aquires the map and key he presents to Thorin at Bag End. Now that Thorin has unleashed the dragon, might not the next prologue be a natural place to explore the origins of this quest with Thorin’s long lost father?
 
This heir of Durin, despite some lunatic ramblings, could perhaps shed some more light on why he was being held in Dol Guldur and how the massive gold treasury of Erebor factors into Sauron’s plans. If Thrain was thwarted in his attempts and tortured by the Dark Lord himself, maybe he holds some crucial piece of knowledge that motivates Gandalf to undertake this endeavor in the first place. The Bree prologue in DOS did the same thing showing the initial meeting between Gandalf and Thorin establishing a precedent for such Hobbit prologues.
 
But on second thought, this might be a little too similar to what we have already seen and it is unlikely that Peter Jackson will give us another Gandalf-getting-ready-for-the-quest prologue. More likely this scene will show up in the DOS Extended Edition come November.
 

Galadriel Rescues Gandalf

We’ve seen in the initial teaser trailer for The Battle of the Five Armies a glimpse of Galadriel walking barefoot through some rocky place and kissing a fallen Galdalf on the head. In AUJ, Galadriel promised to show up if Gandalf ever needed her. And in DOS Gandalf sends Radagast to go bring her back to Dol Guldur with reinforcements.
 
Is this scene from the trailer showing the rescue of Gandalf from Sauron’s prison where he ended up at the end of the last movie? And if so, could that not make a suitable prologue for the third film?
 
I’m not sure how long it is going to take for the titular battle of five different armies to get started but it might make sense for the timeline to be sped up a little to get things moving after the burning of Lake-town. Gandalf needs to get rescued and get over to the battle pretty quickly. While this prologue is unlikely, this scene is not in the book and thus there’s no real way to tell when it will take place. The opening few minutes might be as good a place as any.
 

Goblins and Orcs

After Gandalf was defeated by Sauron toward the ends of the second film, we see him hanging in a cage watching as an army of orcs march out to war. Presumably led by Azog himself, they are already on their way to Erebor even before Smaug faces off against Bard.
 
However in the book it was not the orcs of Dol Guldur that marched out to battle but the angry goblins of the Misty Mountains coming to avenge their fallen king. Since the third film is all about the build up to war and then the climatic battle itself, it makes good sense to stick with that theme in the prologue. One possible prologue could involve Azog’s army encountering the vengeful goblins and joining together as one even bigger force. Showing such a massive double-flanked army would heighten the tension for the rest of the film even as the main characters are busy dealing with other seemingly more pertinent issues surrounding the aftermath of Smaug.
 

Sauron Resurrects Azog

The Hobbit films give us the perplexing predicament of giving us a Necromancer who can summon the spirits of the dead, but who is actually revealed to be the disembodied formerly defeated Sauron himself. This kind of does away with the whole Necromancer idea altogether if it weren’t for the newly emancipated Ringwraiths running around somewhere. One way this could be ameliorated is by giving more weight to the whole necromancy concept in the third prologue.
 
According to Tolkien, Azog the Defiler died of his wounds long ago at the Battle of Azanulbizar. However in the movie version, lo and behold there is he walking around waving his metal claw hand around like he never died.
 
This discrepancy could easily be mended by a short prologue opening on the aftermath of the battle outside the gates of Moria. Imagine as the camera zooms past the seas of bodies and bloodstained rocks penetrating into the black night of the mountain. There in the eerie darkness lies the lifeless corpse of Azog.
 
Suddenly a howling wind, a piercing shriek, fills the cavern walls. A flickering shadow spreads across the floor to the feet of the fallen orc chieftain. A whispering voice begins to chant in Black Speech. Azog’s toes begin to wiggle one by one. A shiver goes down his body. His heart begins to thump loudly. With a bloodcurdling scream, the Defiler sits up.
 
Azog blinks and recoils in fear. He scrambles to his feet, his back to the wall. He does not know who is with him in the dim underground tombs of Moria. A soulless voice speaks to him in the gravelly language of Mordor, “Bow to me.” Azog bends his knees and feebly spits out a reply, “Yes, master.”
 

The Rewind

Desolation of Smaug ended with many characters’ fates hanging in the balance. It is very possible that the third film may take some time to rewind a few minutes and show what is happening with the rest of the cast before leaping back into all the fire and death stuff. A multi-character prologue could show the result of this chase right before the dragon arrives.
 
When we last saw them, Legolas was chasing Bolg on horseback as the ugly white orc fled town. Perhaps he catches up before Smaug even arrives, who knows?
 
The dwarves back in Lake-town presumably all survive for the upcoming battle so we could see how they get away from the impending doom ahead of time along with Bard’s children. Tauriel can perform some more heroics to save more non-elves. Perhaps we can see Bain breaking his dad out of prison and handing him the black arrow, but this is seeming less and less likely even as I write this.
 
Back in Erebor, Bilbo and Thorin can watch in horror for a few moments more as they prepare to see wanton destruction befall an innocent populace as a direct result of their actions. The Master of Lake-town and Alfrid can scream in horror as they realize what they’ve done by helping the dwarves.
 
Ok in all honesty, there probably won’t be time for all this. Smaug really seems to mean business at the end of the second film and I doubt he will waste any time so that people can work out their issues. Since the other five prologues take place a significant time before the opening title, I sincerely doubt that there would be time for such a needless delay.
 

No Prologue

This is probably the opening that most people expect for The Battle of the Five Armies: no prologue and getting straight back into the action. The second Hobbit film was the first in the entire Middle Earth film series to end on a straight up cliffhanger. Such an ending may seem to rule out the possibility of seeing an extended prologue like we’ve seen before.
 
However I feel this is unlikely for three reasons.
 
First, such a committed tradition spanning five movies is not so easily discarded. You can’t just Gimli it with an axe because Smaug happens to be coming over for second breakfast. Although it might make sense on one level to skip it this time around, there are too many hypothetical scenarios (like the ones I’ve listed above) to pass up this opportunity to showcase more tender moments from the long established annals of Middle Earth.
 
The second reason is that this trilogy, for better or worse, has to deal with the issue of padding. We are dealing with two films that were split into three at the eleventh hour. Since that three movie decision was made back in summer 2012, there has been plenty of man-hours devoted to writing and filming additional scenes that weren’t originally planned back under the the two film treatment. Adding, not removing, a prologue would be a simple and relatively easy way to extend the running time and provide additional thematic clarity to a significantly elongated narrative.
 
The third reason is that the first two films have left us with so many dangling threads that it feels far too implausible that a prologue wouldn’t be used to answer at least a question or two. Really, there are questions that need answering. I don’t think we can make it another movie without answering every single question on this list:
  • Why is Azog still alive when Bolg could have been perfectly serviceable? What is so special about the Defiler that he was needed to brought back to life to replace his son at the final battle?
  • What is the deal with Dol Guldur? We’ve been teased it for two films but we still haven’t seen why it was so necessary to this particular adaptation of The Hobbit? And if Sauron wanted to keep it a secret, why did he breed giant easy-to-notice spiders there?
  • What is the White Council up to? When are Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman going to get involved in this whole spider infestation issue and the endless intrigue surrounding Dol Guldur?
  • Where are the Ringwraiths? If we saw their empty tombs in the High Fells that means they are out doing something. What is the thing they are doing? Do they do anything besides conspicuously fumble their swords and leave them behind at the slightest provocation? Why does Sauron rely on the one-handed Azog instead of his chiefest lieutenants all of whom have two useable hands? Are the nine servants of evil not yet strong enough to take physical form like Sauron is? And do they ever get tired of being invincible unkillable ghosts whose only weakness is getting stabbed in the face by women?
  • What is so special about Thrain that he needed to be teased in two movie trailers yet also cruelly withheld from us twice in a row for some sinister purpose that lies veiled in the shadows? Why was the White Council talking about Thrain’s ring of power in the extended edition and is that how Sauron is regaining his former strength? Does Sauron collect rings like how some people collect Magic cards?
  • Speaking of rings of power, the elves were not corrupted by their rings like men and dwarves. Are we finally going to see Galadriel, Elrond, and Gandalf each wield their rings in a battle against Sauron? That would be the coolest thing ever.
  • What is going on between Legolas and Tauriel? Did they used to date? Did they break up when Thranduil found out? Is there a good reason Legolas is still single in Lord of the Rings?
  • Speaking of wood-elves, where is Thranduil’s moose? Can we please see him ride it into battle? Can somehow get some more details about the traditional use of war moose?
  • Does Smaug have a good singing voice? I feel like he would. That baritone is just perfect for some kind of Hobbity song.
  • What is Bilbo planning to do with the Arkenstone? He has it, right? Did anyone see him pick it up? He has to have it. There’s no way he doesn’t have it. I couldn’t quite see but he must have it, right?
  • Is Legolas going to give Thorin his sword back? It’s so not cool for him to be killing orcs with the funnest sword that he lifted just so he could have it. Is anyone going to mention to Legolas that the handle of Orcrist is made from a dragon tooth and obviously belongs to Thorin for personal dragon reasons?
  • Are the new characters like Tauriel, Alfrid, and Bard’s daughters who were invented for the movie, going to meet an untimely end? I feel like their chances are not good.
  • Since Bilbo blacks out in the book during the final battle, will we not actually see the battle on screen and instead just hear people talking about the battle when Bilbo finally wakes up? Just thinking from a purist perspective, that would be logical, right?
  • Are black arrows really that hard to make? They look kind of just like regular arrows but maybe bigger. There will be a perfectly good explanation for why people didn’t feel like making more after an actual dragon showed up, no?
  • Also, why is Thorin such a jerk? I really liked him in the first movie. It seemed like he reconciled with Bilbo after the whole eagle rescue but now he’s back to trying to kill Bilbo. Is dragon sickness contagious? Should I be concerned here?
  • Why did the Misty Mountain song disappear from the second movie? I know it was a bit overplayed in the first movie but can we have it back now? We’re sorry for complaining, Peter. One more time, for old times?
  • Why are there no guardrails in Middle Earth? Don’t people ever fall off these walkways? Is there really no governmental agencies around to inspect bridges to make sure that children and drunks don’t accidentally plummet to their death? I know this is a faux history of a fantastical medieval European civilization and things were often brutally grimdark, but surely they still had guardrails. Are these magic guardrails that we can’t see because of a spell of concealment? I just find it hard to believe that elven architectural aesthetics trumps safety every time. We’re talking about saving lives here.