In 1939, MGM released the perennial classic, Gone with the Wind, which would become the biggest box office hit of all time (and still is, once inflation is taken into account). The film was three and a half hours long and a faithful adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s 1000+ page novel. It told a complete, epic tale and nobody who read the book ever walked out of the theater feeling cheated or unfulfilled.
In 2010, faced with the end of their cash cow known as the Harry Potter franchise, Warner Brothers chose to split the final novel into two separate films, even though the 700 page book wasn’t even the longest in the series. They simply wanted to exploit the franchise for all it was worth, confident that legions of Potterphiles would happily ignore the complete lack of creative justification for turning Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films. And Warner Brothers was proven right. Both parts were two of the biggest sellers in the entire franchise.
Thus began the most blatantly greedy and obscene cash-grabbing practice in Hollywood history...Breaking Dawn Parts I and II, Mockingjay Parts I and II and three goddamn Hobbit movies squeezed from a 300 page book. Rather than boycotting such an insulting practice, zealous fans worldwide have enthusiastically shown up in droves without a second thought to how they’re being totally exploited.
I don't know about you, but I don't expect to visit a theater and pay good, hard-earned money for just part of a story. If I wanted to be left hanging, I'd watch more television - at least it's free outside of the monthly bill you're already paying.
This trend shows no signs of stopping, with the third Avengers entry tentatively slated as two movies, and Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Stand, currently being adapted into four individual films. Warner is also developing the inevitable Justice League as a two-parter. What’s most disheartening is the sheer number of moviegoers who not only accept this trend, but actually defend it as a creative decision, using the same old argument that it's the only way to properly tell the whole story.
That is complete bullshit. The Hobbit was intentionally padded to include tenuous ties to Lord of the Rings, as well as inviting new characters and scenes that weren't even in the book. Why? Because three movies rakes in a lot more cash than one or two, and they knew Middle-earth fans would feel as compelled to see each one just as much as the rest of us are compelled to keep our homes stocked with toilet paper. Tissue companies could suddenly decide to charge ten bucks per roll and we’d still have no choice but to pay up (let’s hope that never occurs to them). If you think this analogy is wrong, then why did so many people shell out anywhere from $30 to $60 each - depending on where you live and whether or not you saw it in 3D - over the course of two years to watch a single story in theaters? Exactly. Studios compelled you to.
And Lionsgate didn’t decide to split Mockingjay in two because the story is so complex. In fact, it’s narratively the weakest in the entire trilogy. Even at only 300 pages, the book itself seemed unnecessarily long and drawn-out. No, they did it because squeezing a fourth film from a trilogy this popular is like printing your own money and taking candy from a baby (in this case, we’re the babies). This essentially turned Mockingjay Part I into a two hour long teaser trailer for the second installment. Not fair, man.
If you still disagree, think about this...so far, nearly every time a studio has made the decision to split movies into two-parters has been after the franchise itself has developed such an enormous fan base that success is guaranteed. There’s virtually no financial risk. This ain't too far removed from the practice drug dealers use when prowling schoolyards...they give you a taste, maybe even some to pass out to your friends, then drain your wallet once you’re all hopelessly addicted.
There are arguably only two exceptions, the first being Quentin Tarantino’s two Kill Bill films. Though Tarantino's widely respected, he doesn't direct high-concept blockbusters aimed at mainstream audiences. The decision to split the four hour story into two films was risky, to say the least, since there was no built-in legion of Black Mamba fans. Additionally, this is arguably a case in which the decision was creatively justified, since both films are uniquely different in style and tone (Volume I pays homage to Asian action cinema, while Volume II plays like Sergio Leone’s classic Italian westerns).
The second exception is obviously The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Taken as a whole, distilling this massive three-part story into a single film would have been impossible. One film per novel was an obviously justified artistic decision, not to mention daring. People today tend to forget the enormous financial risk New Line Cinema was taking. Aside from the first Harry Potter film, fantasy cinema wasn't exactly setting the box office on fire in 2001. Additionally, Tolkien's trilogy always had more of a cult following as opposed to the masses that made Harry Potter a modern cultural phenomenon. Throw in a director who, at the time, was mostly known for some arty horror films and gore comedies, and you had the potential for disaster. Still, creative integrity won out over financial concerns, and in this case, the gamble paid off.
Those two exceptions aside, splitting a story into two or more films is far more exploitative than movies with cliffhanger endings. The Empire Strikes Back and Back to the Future Part II may have maddeningly teased the audience with open-ended conclusions, but only after telling complete stories of their own. And the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have (so far) had the decency to wait until the credits roll before teasing us with the wonders yet to come. But Deathly Hallows Part One? Mockingjay Part I? The Hobbit: Watch Bilbo Walk for Three Hours? You're simply paying for half a movie because of the concept that we're stupid enough to come back a year later and pay again for the rest of the tale. And so far, we haven't proven them wrong...
But think about it...you'd never pay to attend the first half of a ballgame, then again to catch the remaining innings, would you? You'd never go on iTunes and download the first two minutes of a song. If the Domino's delivery guy showed up with only half a pizza, you sure as hell wouldn't pay for a whole one. So why are we starting to let Hollywood get away with giving us half a movie?
As much as I loved The Lord of the Rings, I personally refuse to ever watch any of the films in the so-called Hobbit trilogy. The same goes for Mockingjay, even though I truly enjoyed both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Just because I'm a fan doesn't mean I'm stupid, and I'm fine with not paying twice the price for the conclusion of a trilogy I already know the ending to. As for upcoming films...sorry, but if I can't enjoy Avengers: Infinity War for the price of a single ticket, I'm out.
What will really hurt is if they persist on turning Stephen King's The Stand into four films. It's my favorite book of all-time and the 1994 miniseries didn't do it justice. Still, if guys 80 years ago could adapt Gone with the Wind into a single sweeping epic (which is still considered one of the greatest films of all time), there's no reason a talented enough cast and crew couldn't accomplish the same thing with a book that's a few hundred pages shorter. I guess I'll have to miss that one too, because I wish to retain some self respect.