The Third Hobbit Movie Made Me Sad and Hollywood's New Addiction For Splitting Adaptations Sucks
Those first two Hobbit movies. Man, they were long. Longer than they needed to be. It's easy to forget they're about a hobbit. If you didn't know anything about J.R.R. Tolkien's novel, then I have to imagine the title is confusing—you'd think The Hobbit is about the wacky adventures of a handful of dwarves, and also sometimes Bilbo Baggins shows up to say something pithy.
In theory, Martin Freeman is supposed to be the star. A legitimate argument could be made that these movies are more about Richard Armitage's Thorin Oakenshield.
Still, I gave the first two films a pass. It was nice to see Smaug. Martin Freeman is an incredible actor—the pathos he can deliver with a facial expression is immense. Gandalf! Gandalf is back! The movies gave me a serious jolt of nostalgia; it was nice to be back in Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings films were phenomenal, and earned from me a large amount of good will.
But then I saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. My good will was exhausted and then curb-stomped.
What a disappointing piece of nonsense that was. It was like watching a kid slam his action figures together. Not even in real life. It was like watching a video game version of that thing happen.
Things are fucked from the start. Before you can even get excited that there's about to be some dragon fighting, the dragon is dead. Smaug is like an afterthought. Like the filmmakers remembered: Oh right, we have to deal with that dude. Whatever. Black arrow he's dead moving on to the opening credits.
The movie was disappointing on a number of levels. It just goes to show that Hollywood's new fascination with splitting literary properties and then padding their run-times until the seams creak is not an effective method of adaptation.
Not that it matters. There's money to be made, so this is the new normal.
The Hunger Games appetizer course
Let's talk about The Hunger Games for a hot second. I am a very big fan of the first two movies. In terms of proper sci-fi that takes a ridiculous concept and forces us to look in a mirror, it's aces. Warfare through media manipulation and systems of governmental control and PTSD; these are smart stories led by a strong female character and it makes me excited that kids are watching them. They're learning that totalitarian regimes suck. This is a good thing.
The first movie was really good, even though it looked cheap. The second one was way better. I should be excited about seeing the third installment, Mockingjay, but I'm not. Because what was released in theaters this past November wasn't the final installment. It was Mockingjay: Part 1. Half the story.
Forgive me for going off half-cocked here. I haven't read the third book, nor seen the third movie. But my wife has, and she said it felt like half a story. A lot of critics said the same thing. Given that my mutant power is to always sit near the asshole who's going to talk and text his way though a movie, I figure I can wait until it comes out on video. Save myself a little frustration.
This is another good example of a book that, by many accounts, didn't have enough story for multiple movies, and is being split so the studio can make an extra billion-dollar payday. Which, on the face of it, isn't necessarily a bad thing—Hollywood studios are businesses, and they want to make money.
Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games trilogy, reportedly worked on the adaptation, to help shepherd the bigger story into place. That's nice, because if anyone is going to do it, it may as well be the original author. Before the film came out I wondered if people would be excited to see more of the world from the hand that built it. Though, that doesn't seem to be the case.
When stories are stretched, does the art suffer? Does it do disservice to the source material? Isn't Mockingjay: Part 1 essentially just a prologue?
I don't even know. What I can tell you is that I don't care enough to see it. Instead, I'll stream it the morning I go see the fourth movie in theaters. That way I don't feel like I'm being scammed out of something.
Sometimes it works... or does it?
I love the Harry Potter movies. They are beautiful, fun stories about friendship and courage and if you disagree, I pity your shriveled black heart.
The seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was split into two films—and that made a certain amount of sense. It's a long book, at 784 pages. As I recall, at least 500 of those were dedicated to an endless camping trip, but still. The Battle of Hogwarts sort of deserved its own movie.
Interestingly enough, this piece at Screen Crush gives some insight into the mechanics here:
Adjusted for inflation, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was actually the least successful film in the entire franchise—suggesting at least some viewers skipped it to wait for the real finale—but it still made $295 million in the U.S. and another $664 million worldwide. By almost every conceivable measure, it was an unqualified success.
Except, perhaps, as a piece of self-contained entertainment. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 routinely winds up near or at the bottom of rankings of the Harry Potter franchise, and it’s easy to see why: The whole (half of the) affair is about as exciting as a 146-minute visit to the Hogwarts infirmary waiting room.
A rational human person might look at that and say: "Well, people weren't thrilled with the movie and it made the least of all the films, so that makes sense."
But a Hollywood executive looks at that and says: "HOLY SHIT THAT'S NEARLY ONE BILLION DOLLARS WORLDWIDE I CAN BUY A FOURTEENTH MERCEDES!!!!"
On a personal level, in terms of effectiveness, I am way more happy with how Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2 turned out. Spreading them out like that gave a dense story room to breathe. And it has to. If you're doing it as one film it's either going to be four hours long, or you're going to lose at least a third of the story.
That said... I'm way more interested in re-watching the second one than I am the first. And the first one is good! But unless I'm doing a marathon viewing of all the films—I'm way less interested in watching Harry Potter and friends go camping than I am watching Professor McGonagall smack down some fools with an army of stone warriors.
When does it actually work?
Would you like a good example of a movie that was split into two parts and it was entirely effective?
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.
They were different films but part of a whole, cohesive story. Nothing felt drawn out or padded. Because it's an original story. It's not something small that was stretched out to fill a too-big space. If anything, it's probably missing another two hours that Tarantino couldn't figure out how to film without adding a third installment to the mix.
This is what makes me hopeful for Marvel's upcoming plans with the Avengers films. Infinity War: Part I is scheduled to be released in May 2018, with Part II following a year later. This is not a bad thing, because whatever Marvel has cooking, it's not a direct adaptation of the Infinity War comic. It's going to be an original story in which the writers can design and develop the pacing, so when it appears that the mad titan Thanos is victorious at the end of Part I, we won't feel like we're getting the prologue of a bigger story.
This, truly, has always been the dangerous thing about adapting books into film. Books aren't movies. The mediums could not be further apart, in terms of construction and pacing and development. There are things that work in films that could never work in books, and vice versa.
And it seems a strong argument could be made that this knee-jerk toward milking properties for every potential penny is even worse for adaptations, because how far are we, truly, from a six-part film series adaptation of Anna Karenina?
Actually, wait, that might work...
Not stopping anytime soon
There's talk of a new adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand. Of course, it will take place over multiple films. The third book in the Divergent series, Allegiant, will be split into two films. (That might be fun to watch, for a laugh, given the supreme dumbness of the source material.)
This trend is so popular, people are now making up rumors that movies are being split up, like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie with a title so terrible it makes me cringe to type it (which, also, is not being split into two movies, though surely the eventual Justice League movie will be).
So what does this all mean? There's money to be made, and people will never stop liking money. There's potential for some good storytelling, when it comes to original stories that aren't confined to canon. I remain optimistic about Marvel's plans, mostly because they're the architects of their own destiny. And stories like The Stand do seem tailored for multiple entries.
But it's reasons like this that television is a better home for adaptations. A good example: Preacher. That's a comic that you could never do justice over the course of a couple of films. In the hands of Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, in a medium where serialized storytelling not only makes sense, but is convenient for the viewer (I don't have to get off my couch), I am hopeful.
Here's hoping, too, that the moneymakers learn some lessons from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
CGI orcs looks like shit.
Oh wait, I mean... don't take a small story and turn it into a big one. Especially if the scaffolding isn't there to support it.
What say you? What are the pitfalls of splitting stories like this? What are the advantages? What kind of properties do you think demand multiple parts to tell an effective story?
Head on down to the comments and dish.
(In the course of writing this article I neglected to use the final two Twilight films as an example. You know why? Fuck Twilight.)
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