What is a Prologue in Film? Definition and Examples.

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Definition: A prologue is an introductory segment that appears at the beginning of a movie or a television show. It provides background information, sets the tone or mood, establishes the time or place, or introduces important characters or events. The prologue often sets the stage for the main story that follows.

The difference between Exposition and Prologue

There is a difference between a prologue and an exposition.

Both the prologue and exposition provide background information. The primary distinction lies in the story’s structure, placement, and narrative function.

A prologue is a literary device used at the beginning of a story or play to provide background information or set the stage for the main narrative.

Exposition is essential for understanding the story and its context.

While prologues are commonly used for exposition in storytelling, not all exposition needs to be included in a prologue.

Screenwriters and authors can introduce background information as exposition at different points in the story to maintain reader engagement and enhance the narrative.

Too much background information in the prologue can make a movie’s opening scene too information-heavy and dull.

Examples of Movie Prologues

Examples of prologues in film include:

“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001)

The film opens with a prologue that explains the history of the One Ring, its power, and the events leading up to the story of the film.

“Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” (1977)

The iconic crawl of text that begins each Star Wars film can be considered a prologue. It sets the stage by providing essential context about the ongoing conflict between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire.

“Up” (2009)

The animated film starts with a prologue that tells the love story of the main character, Carl, and his late wife, Ellie. It also shows Carl’s life-long fascination with the explorer Charles Muntz. This prologue sets an emotional foundation for the rest of the film.

“The Lion King” (1994)

The movie begins with a prologue that introduces the audience to the Pride Lands and the Circle of Life. It also establishes the conflict between the lion king Mufasa and his brother Scar.

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001)

The film opens with a prologue that provides a glimpse into the tragic events surrounding the murder of Harry Potter’s parents and his subsequent life with the Dursley family.

Conclusion

Prologues in film can have both pros and cons.

On the positive side, prologues can provide essential background information, setting the stage for the following story and helping the audience understand the context.

They can also create intrigue and hook the viewers’ attention from the beginning.

Additionally, prologues can be useful in introducing important characters or key events that are crucial for the plot development.

However, prologues can also have drawbacks. They may slow the narrative pace, causing the audience to lose interest before the main story begins.

Prologues can also be confusing if not executed properly, leaving viewers struggling to grasp the relevance or connection to the rest of the film.

Moreover, prologues can potentially reveal too much information, spoiling surprises or diminishing the element of mystery.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of a prologue in a film depends on its execution and how well it serves the overall story.

When you write a screenplay, you should carefully consider the purpose and impact of a prologue, weighing its benefits against the potential drawbacks to determine whether it enhances or detracts from the viewer’s experience.

Up Next: What is Point of View in Movies?

Author

  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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