Home > Books, Comedy, Movies, Storytelling, Weekend Feature > Multi-film novel adaptations becoming a disturbing Hollywood trend

Multi-film novel adaptations becoming a disturbing Hollywood trend

Peter Jackson The Hobbit Part 1 An Unexpected Journey Bilbo Thorin Dwarves Martin Freeman

It’s becoming an all-too-common trend: popular novels are being awkwardly hacked into chunks and transformed into overlong feature-length films to prolong franchise life and score extra ticket receipts. Fans love it, but for the uninitiated it’s resulting in poorly-constructed stories that fail to offer the closure expected out of a traditional movie experience.

So far, film producers have only had the cojones to do it with much-beloved book franchises with cult followings, and that’s unlikely to change. In a movie era where the cinemas are dominated by nostalgic reboots, novel adaptations and comic book superheroes, film companies clearly place an incredible amount of faith in pre-established audiences.

That’s why they’ve pushed the boundaries of solid filmmaking by creating incomplete movies: they know a die-hard (or Twi-Hard) fan is willing to accept an incomplete movie and pay for admission twice because they’re already committed to the product. Making two Twilight films prolongs the fantasy experience and adds double the ticket receipts, plus an extra boost for 3D and IMAX surcharges.

Given that most moviegoers wouldn’t stomach an original film that’s only partially written (unless it’s from Quentin Tarantino), it’s safe to say we won’t ever see Anchorman 2: Part 1.

Anchorman 2 Will Ferrell Ron Burgundy

“Great Odin’s raven! Why not?”

But these multi-film novel adaptations are a practice you simply won’t get away with in any other area of life.

Imagine you’re in high school English and your first term paper is due. 500 words on one of the major themes in The Hobbit. Due Friday.

You pick power as your topic. Easy one, right? Just slot your argument into the old five paragraph essay format and you’re golden: intro, body, conclusion. Boom.

Now imagine you write the essay in 1800 words. You chop it at exactly 600 words for each, and you shrink the font and expand the margins to squeeze it all into the typical page length. You turn in the first chunk and think: “That’s way more words than the teacher asked for, so she’ll be impressed that I’m so smart. And I’ve got enough to turn in for my next two essays, too. I’m covered for the year!”

You get an F. In the top corner, written in red, your teacher wrote: “This is a long intro with one paragraph and no conclusion. Next time, write an essay.”

English class teacher gives an F Fail

“Also, you’re over word count, dumbass.”

That’s exactly what Peter Jackson did with The Hobbit. He took a book with the subtitle “There and Back Again” and made a movie about getting partway There. His next two movies will be The Desolation of Smaug (i.e. There for a While) and There and Back Again (i.e. Eventually Going Back Again). And if you haven’t read the book, Bilbo’s journey home is a total victory lap; nothing gets in his way or slows him down to make it interesting.

Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Martin Freeman Bilbo smoking a pipe Tolkien

He just does a lot of this.

There’s a lot of narrative padding and extra story added to An Unexpected Journey to get it up to an unwieldy three hours. the film could have realistically been done in two. Now, consider how much Jackson is going to have to pad the next two movies to make each one three hours.

There’s also the near-inevitability that the Blu-ray release will see an extended cut for each film, the same way Lord of the Rings was released. Jackson added two and a half hours of footage to those films from the material he had to cut. So rest assured, Tolkien fans: you’ll eventually get to see the scenes Jackson left out of this Hobbit trilogy. You’ll finally see the origin of Radagast’s bird poop haircut, and Jackson will certainly add back in every single song from the novel, including the Rivendell elves’ song:

O! What are you seeking,
And where are you making?
The faggots are reeking,
The bannocks are baking!
O! tril-lil-lil-lolly
the valley is jolly,
ha! ha!

It’s really not the same story without a tril-lil-lil-lolly.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the first to try splitting one book into two movies. In fact, Warner Bros. toyed with the idea of making Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire into two films back in 2004, but scrapped the idea and – much to the chagrin of Potter fans – made some aggressive story cuts instead. Not so with Deathly Hallows: according to producer David Heyman, the choice to split the movie up was left entirely in the hands of the filmmakers, and they opted to do it because there were too many plot points to hit in the final film for them to squeeze it all into a reasonable length. They were looking at a 4.5 hour single film unless they split it up, so they went ahead with the divison. They also had plenty of support from J.K. Rowling herself.

So, while critics were annoyed by the sudden halt midway through the plot, fans delighted to know that J.K. Rowling’s epic Potter conclusion would get all the screen time it needed to tie up every loose end for the franchise. Shooting both movies together meant a prolonged two-year break between Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, but the result was a fully-realized adaptation for fans, and a box office bonanza for Warner Bros. Together, the two Deathly Hallows films grossed nearly $2.3 billion in worldwide revenue.

Harry Potter Gringott's Goblin Bank Money Counting

“$2,284,510,930 to be exact.”

If J.K. Rowling was supportive of a proposed split for her final book, then Stephanie Meyer was downright adamant: she insisted that there was too much content to Breaking Dawn for it to be anything but a two-film finale. The announcement that Breaking Dawn would be a two-parter came just five months before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 hit theatres, and Twilight fans were stoked. Meyer’s rabid fanbase devoured both parts of the final sparkling vampire story, and the two films grossed a combined $1.5 billion worldwide. Critics panned it, but the only complaint you heard out of Twi-Hards was that they had to wait in line twice – and subject their ear drums to prepubescent girl screams twice – to see Bella marry Edward and pop out a vamp kid.

Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Bella Edward Vampires Wedding Kristen Stewart Robert Pattinson

“OMG we’re so happy to be vampire married!”

Fast-forward again to Peter Jackson, who is creating a nine-hour trilogy from a 150-page book originally written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children, with all the bits that weren’t coherent enough for The Lord of the Rings shoved in around the edges to fill in run time. There are added subplots and artificial end points to get each movie out the door in a more or less self-contained form, but it’s clear this is a trilogy that never should have been.

Unlike with Harry Potter and The Twilight Saga, Hobbit fans need not fear that the book will be shortchanged. Instead, the danger is it’s getting lost in the noise of all the added material.

The audacious part about the Hobbit trilogy is that it was initially planned as a two-film project. A third film was added just five months before the first movie debuted, meaning Jackson had to scramble to re-edit his movies and re-shoot footage to make everything coherent.

There is plenty to like about An Unexpected Journey. It’s well-acted, the special effects are grand and Middle-Earth is as beautiful, dangerous and exhilarating as ever. But this series is too much of a good thing.

The Hobbit is about a band of dwarves in pursuit of a pile of riches.

The story of its film adaptation is about that same pursuit.

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