Director Peter Jackson's epic prequel trilogy to his previous epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings culminates this December with the recently re-named The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. It's been a long journey for The Hobbit - before Jackson signed on to direct, Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim) was originally going to make the project in two parts.
Jackson took J.R.R. Tolkien's single volume and expanded the story and scope well beyond the main narrative, which followed the simple hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he was drafted by wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) into assisting dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his brethren in re-taking the Lonely Mountain from the fearsome dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).
The previous chapters in The Hobbit saga, An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, surpassed Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy in epic spectacle, and now star Richard Armitage has hinted that the final film will include some suitably memorable moments.
"It's going to be quite a nostalgic event I think. It's going to be 15 years of seeing Middle Earth on the big screen, the culmination of Peter Jackson's life's work. I think the 'Battle of the Five Armies' is something that I cannot wait to see."
Armitage echoed this sentiment to OTRC, adding: "There's a couple of big surprises. [...] I think it will be probably quite a cinematic event."
In the original novel, the men of the Long Lake, the elves of Mirkwood and the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the eagles of the Misty Mountain clash with the armies of goblins and wargs out of Moria. Bilbo, Gandalf and the shape-shifting Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) all play important roles in the outcome of the battle.
Jackson's films don't break with the source material so much as stretch that narrative out into a kind of all-encompassing direct lead-in to the story of Sauron's rebirth in Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit adds the relationship between elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the dwarf Kili (Aiden Turner) and includes LOTR characters Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) - neither of whom appear in the book - and expands the story of Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans).
The Battle of the Five Armies also needs to wrap up the conflict between Smaug and Laketown, as well as see Thorin finally retake the Lonely Mountain.
What kind of surprises could possibly in store? There's only so much more Jackson can add at this point without breaking the continuity from The Hobbit films into LOTR, but the combination of many small changes and some unexpected big ones will keep fans guessing until the end of the year.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will be released in U.S. theaters on December 17th, 2014.