The Sunday Salon: Two-Part Film Adaptations

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?

14 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Two-Part Film Adaptations

  1. Wow, I hadn’t given this issue any thought at all so thank you for giving it such thorough thought for me! I am actually feeling a little bit nervous now. The twilight thing isn’t my thing so that doesn’t concern me. I haven’t been massively impressed with the Harry potter adaptations as compared to the books so I think the pressure to get it right is a little bit less. I think there’s more pressure to get the hobbit right because the lotr movies did it so well they have set a standard. I really can’t imagine how they make it into two movies but good luck to them. I can’t wait fir the new Harry movie to be released!

    • I have complete faith in Peter Jackson. There may even be a slim chance they go back to a single film, since splitting it was Del Toro’s idea, and he’s since left the project. Jackson knows how to handle the material and adapt it to the film, so I’m not too worried about The Hobbit.

  2. I totally agree with you. (Well, I have no opinion about Breaking Dawn because I haven’t seen it.) To me, it just feels like a way to wring as much money out of the franchises as possible. HP has some long, tedious sections that could easily be cut down. Some of the other books might have benefited from two-part adaptations, or an extended edition for DVD ala Lord of the Rings, but Deathly Hallows doesn’t seem to need it.

    And, oh, The Hobbit really doesn’t make sense to me in two-parts. There and Back Again–that’s Bilbo’s title. You need the there and the back again to tell that story. I heard at one point that they were going to add a lot of material about the battles with the Necromancer that happen during and after the events of The Hobbit, but I think that could create tone problems. I have a feeling, though, that they’re not going to go for the children’s story tone for The Hobbit.

    • I heard Christopher Lee was happy to depict Saruman’s corruption, but he’s no longer comfortable flying to New Zealand at his age to reprise the role.

      Del Toro made some vague statement about splitting it after a point where Bilbo starts to gain the dwarves’ respect, but that seems much too slight to me to serve as a climax.

      Yeah, I think they’re ditching that tone for something that matches The Lord of the Rings instead.

  3. Does enough stuff happen before the birthing scene in Breaking Dawn to make it a whole movie? Actually, does enough stuff happen after the birthing scene to make that a whole movie either?

    I have given a nerdy amount of thought to where they should cut HP in half. I think they should cut it at the point where Ron comes back. I thought that would work as an action climax–one Horcrux destroyed! the means to destroy all the others within their grasp!–and also provide everyone the opportunity to be all like, “We are better than Voldemort because we have snuggly feelings!” and like that. It’s almost exactly in the middle of the book, too.

    Yay for Doctor Who! I have watched the end of the finale like six times, and I always get a little teary. :p Last night I dreamed that I watched two new episodes of Doctor Who, and when I woke up feeling really chipper I was trying to remember why they would run the next series so soon after the first one was over. Then I realized it was a dream. Sigh.

    • You could stretch out the dramatic tension with the pregnancy hurting Bella, I suppose, for the first part, and have the anti-climax as the climax for the second part. It’s doable, in a way that’s not for the other films, I think.

      I remember that being tossed around towards the end of my involvement with Harry Potter fandom, and it sounded like a good idea at the time. I do have to admit I’ve only read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the once, though.

      But it’s so cute and upbeat and happy! (Also, River? Torchwood, right? Totally Torchwood.)

  4. I completely agree. I just can’t imagine this working at all. I think Jenny’s right that Ron coming back might be a decent cutting point, but I really can’t think of one for The Hobbit.

    I’m excited to hear you’re reading Fingersmith and enjoying it 😀 Can’t wait to hear your final thoughts.

  5. Breaking Dawn does have an edge over the others as there are two clear climactic points in that tome – not that I think it warrants two films, but still…

    HP was a book that could have been half the size it is and have sacrificed nothing. Truth be told I was rather disgusted with the book itself as it felt as though Rowling weren’t even trying anymore. As one movie I think it would have far exceeded the other film adaptations in the series, but with two I have my doubts. HP4 was quite conceivably the only book in the series I thought to be in need and worthy of two films.

    The Hobbit in two parts is also a bit disconcerting, but as Jackson did an amazing job with adapting LotR for the big screen I have faith he’ll do this well.

    Speaking of Lord of the Rings I can’t help but wonder at all this concern for the running time. Each of those films were close to three hours in their theatrical versions, so why not do the same with these other projects? I get the commercialism, but what about quality? Doing what Jackson did with the theatrical releases, then theatrical versions on DVDs, followed by extended versions on DVDs, seems to have been an incredibly good and profitable venture. Should this not suffice for these other projects?

    • As of now, Jackson is still only the producer- the former director, Del Toro, walked quite recently, and the entire world is pretending that Jackson isn’t totally going to it. Since the decision to split came from Del Toro and not Jackson, I’m not sure what’s going to happen- Jackson might keep it as such or not. (Hopefully not!)

      Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows started this, and I can see how a big book and a rabid fandom might influence the production to see what they could do to extend the running time past three hours.

  6. My main problem with HP being two films is that they’ve not been squeamish about cutting everything under the sun from the other films so why start now? It definitely seems like a financial decision rather than an artistic one.

    And I’m reading Fingersmith right now too! Almost to the end of Book 2 and I can’t believe the number of twists it has so far!

  7. I’m definitely looking forward to the Harry Potter and Hobbit movies. I think there was too much material in the last Harry Potter book for them to edit it down easily to make just one movie. I’m not sure the Hobbit needs to be two movies, though. When I was in New Zealand earlier this year, Hobbiton was under renovation for pre-production; it’s a shame that MGM’s financial woes have been holding up the Hobbit.
    I’m looking forward to your Devil in the White City review. The book made my next visit to Chicago so much more interesting!
    And yes, the Dr. Who finale was awesome. I loved the opening twist and Amy and Rory’s decisions at the end.

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