Whether you love or hate The Lord of the Rings movies, they're remarkably faithful adaptations of the original novels (Tom Bombadil aside), with a firm, Ent-like grasp of what the majority of fans loved about the books in the first place. With most able to forgive the thousand endings of Return of the King, they've taken their place among the most beloved films of their era.
The Hobbit films, however, have had a harder time of it. Whether it was prompted by commercial or creative thinking, the novel's expansion into three films has led to the story being expanded hugely from the book itself - and has changed a huge amount about the novel in the process.
A lot has already been written about the changes made to the first two movies - but with only six months to go until Peter Jackson leaves Middle Earth behind forever, we thought we'd take a look at what's set to change in the upcoming The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
Note, if you haven't read the novel, then what's below is going to be just plain full of SPOILERS.
Still with us? Alright then. First up:
The Battle of The Five Armies is Going to be (Way More) Epic
Being a novel of halfling-sized proportions, The Hobbit doesn't really dwell too much on its central battle. It's definitely there, but it's not even an entire chapters worth of focus, certainly not central enough to warrant naming an entire movie after it. In a post Helm's Deep world, expect Jackson to not only make the battle the centerpiece of the movie, but to add in a more complex set of motivations for the main combatants. The book has more than a touch of the 'Hey, look, Goblins - cue fighting' about it. We're likely to see epic duels, enemies becoming friends, and at least one touching, noble death pulled into full focus.
Speaking of Deaths...
There's been recent speculation that a certain Thorin Oakenshield will - in a major reversal of the book - survive the battle. Whilst everything Richard Armitage (who plays Thorin) has said on the subject suggests that he is still very much set to die, most likely nobly, it's an interesting thought. The novel sees two other members of the Dwarven fellowship fall in the battle - one of whom has been tightly woven into the film's narrative.
Fili and Kili, for those who don't want the surprise...
The obvious reasoning behind that looks to be to make us care as an audience when he dies at the hands of a horde of goblins - but it's still possible that, even if Thorin is destined to lose his life, his comrade might just live. Alternatively, a surprise member of the company might well be lost - only Balin and Gloin are really made safe by references in The Lord of the Rings adaptations.
The New Characters Will Have A Major Role to Play
Remember all of those surprisingly characterful Orcs that kept cropping up in the first two movies? Well expect both Azog and Bolg to pop up once again in The Battle of the Five Armies - with their roles in the novel having potentially changed substantially.
Similarly, Evangeline Lilly's Tauriel and Orlando Bloom's Legolas? Seeing as they're halfway through a love triangle with one of the main Dwarves, don't expect them to be going anywhere - or for their roles to do anything but alter the passage of the original novel's story.
Forget Smaug - Get Ready to Welcome Back the Dark Lord
Smaug has already had his time in the sun, most likely. He's heading to Laketown - and that means he's heading towards a sudden departure from both life and the film. Don't worry, though - that doesn't mean the film will be lacking in villainy. Expect major appearances from the aforementioned Orcs, Saruman and Sauron himself. A likely major sub plot is the conflict between Gandalf and Sauron - with Saruman possibly playing rescuer? None of which is really what you would call 'shown' in the novel.
...And Some Old Friends Too.
Viggo Mortenson may have all but burnt his bridges to the ground when it comes to a Hobbit cameo, but the chances of seeing some favorites from the first trilogy by the end of the final film seem high. We've already had Galadriel and Legolas - but if there's to be no Aragorn cameo, then just who are we going to see? This writer's suspicion - a substantial Hobbit-filled scene come the film's very end.
Or, if Peter Jackson has somehow been replaced by a cunningly disguised robot duplicate, maybe Tom Bombadil could finally get his moment in the sun...
[The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies](movie:512312) is due to be released December 17, 2014