For those among us who have been living under a rock, the next three big book to film adaptations are Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (or, a generation grows up), Breaking Dawn (or, the death of Taylor Lautner’s career), and The Hobbit (or, I didn’t come with a funny name because I’m so freaking excited). The other thing all three of these films have in common? Well, as the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows trailer puts it, they’re all “presented in two parts”. As fannish friends, reader friends, and filmmaker friends express approval over this trend, I often feel a bit awkward when I admit that I think it’s a terrible idea.
Sure, I understand the main draw. A longer running time means less source material will end up on the cutting room floor. If film executives and theater goers get anxious around the three hour mark, why not split it into two parts and play with, at the outer limits, six hours to tell and develop your story, covering things that would have to be cut in a three hour film? On paper, that sounds amazing. But I have serious doubts that it’ll work on film.
The first and foremost problem is that these three films, with two installments each, must fulfill two very different purposes. The first is that each installment provides a satisfying movie-going experience. Considering that the two parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows have eight months between them, that’s common sense. (While fandom is patient, the regular movie-going public isn’t.) Each part must succeed as a film on their own. The second is that these parts must also satisfy as a film in conjunction with the other part once released on DVD as a whole. This is a massive challenge; how do you construct the plot in Part 1 to provide a satisfying climax that doesn’t lessen the impact of Part 2 when it’s viewed together? Breaking Dawn actually has an edge here, as the birthing scene could definitely provide a very good climax for Part 1. But Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is very straight-forward; how do you cut the narrative in half and include a good climax for the first part? Still, there’s enough material in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to try and seek one out or even create one whole-cloth. The Hobbit is in worse shape, since it’s a straight-forward quest narrative written for children (British children of the 1930s, but still, children)–where do you cut? These two purposes are going to be very difficult to balance, I feel, and perhaps even impossible to do in film, although I don’t like to claim anything is impossible. It’s a task more suited to serial writing, like television shows or miniseries.
The second is that what works in a book doesn’t work on screen, which is common sense–but common sense that might dim in the face of up to six hours to work with. This is not a huge problem in comparison to the first, but I prefer pragmatic adaptations to purist adaptations of films. I’d rather something I love from the book was cut than the movie suffer for its inclusion, and I feel the two part format might lend itself to that. Of course, these films are in the hands of filmmakers, and hopefully they won’t feel pressured by the format and fandom to include things that are debilitating to the film.
I honestly think this trend of two-part film adaptations is going to die out very quickly after The Hobbit. I hope to be proven wrong, but I don’t think I will.
Well, that was cheerful! In other news, my reading has been going as it ever does–well. I read and finished A Game of Thrones, The Devil in the White City, and So Long Been Dreaming, and I’ve started on Fingersmith, which I’m quite enjoying. I rented a nice stack of books from the library, as well as the theatrical editions of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings–RiffTrax’s commentary was written for only them. The book lists for my classes next semester were finally released, so my search for cheap copies of them have begun–tons of Shakespeare, although I’m only missing one Austen. The season finale of Doctor Who was absolutely glorious last night, and even managed to feed some of my crazier theories. It’s almost better than The Legend of Zelda in that department!
What do you make of the two-part film adaptations? Love ’em or hate ’em?