Film adaptations should not be broken into parts
Photo edited by: Marta Kierkus
When the producers of the Harry Potter films decided to split the final instalment into two films to avoid cutting out any key plot elements from the book, they started a problematic trend in today’s film industry.
It proved a success, as both film instalments went on to garner critical acclaim and become the highest-grossing films in their respective years. Thus began the trend of adapting single books into multiple film instalments, a trend that continued with the film versions of The Hobbit, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. It’s a problem because studios are shamelessly using it in service of box office returns rather than coherent narrative storytelling.
A fragmented release strategy makes sense from a financial perspective; why not reap the benefits of two or three major theatrical releases instead of one? The multi-part film releases of The Hobbit, Twilight, and the Harry Potter films cracked the top 10 highest-grossing films for each respective year.
While some studio heads and directors may be carrying out these decisions under the guise that they (like the people behind Harry Potter) are doing so to produce more faithful or complex film adaptations, I believe they are hurting the narrative flow of the movie itself.
Take the most recent cinematic instalment of The Hunger Games for example. Since Lionsgate Entertainment decided to break up a short book (around 400 pages) into two films, the standard narrative flow of the original story (which has a distinctive beginning, middle, and end) is not present in this first film instalment. As a single movie, Mockingjay—Part 1 doesn’t have a beginning or an end, since it picks up from unresolved developments from the previous film and closes on an unsatisfying cliffhanger. It leaves you feeling like you’re reading from a book that has half the pages torn out.
Movie fans have similar problems with The Hobbit film trilogy. Although I personally enjoy the creative liberties director Peter Jackson took with J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, I can see why some think the artificial lengthening of this short children’s book into three fantasy epics might take away from the stark simplicity that made the original story such a classic.
Even though this production and release policy has proven to be mixed at best when it comes to fan reception, Hollywood is ready to move full steam ahead. In April, Lionsgate announced that Allegiant (the third novel in the Divergent series) will be split into two films. In October, Marvel Studios and Disney showcased a series of planned films for phase three of their cinematic universe, including the multipart Avengers: Infinity War.
Filmmakers need to make sure they employ this strategy in the service of story rather than box office returns. But given the fact that Hollywood is milking boatloads of money from this strategy, I won’t be holding my breath.