Unless you live under a rock, you know that Mockingjay Part 1 opened in theaters this weekend, and once again sparked controversy. Not because of its length or its material, but because of the fact that it was only the first half of the finale. Some use this “Part 1” and “Part 2” as the subtitle for their sequels (Hangover Part 2 or Godfather Part 2, for example). But, when they become a subtitle for a subtitle, you have to ask yourself if this is really a good thing from a cinematic or economical standpoint, or does it just hurt both?
This “split” craze started with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2010. Now, the Harry Potter franchise started skimming over the books’ content after Prisoner of Azkaban, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They’re film adaptations, not direct interpretations of the books. Hell, my favorite Potter book, Half-Blood Prince was shamelessly adapted with multiple important elements omitted, but as a standalone film, it was quite solid.
Now, the last book was a long one. Not the longest in the franchise, but still a long book, no doubt. Add that with the fact that Warner Bros. wasn’t ready to let go of their crowing achievement just yet, they did something monumental – they split the final book into two films. This of course led to uproar from some, but relief for others. Those fans of the books who though the last few films strayed too far from the book would be able to get a much more direct adaptation this time around. But those who were angry claimed that Warner Bros. was milking the cash cow for all that it was worth.
Now, you’d be a fool not to agree with them. The money was a big, if not the biggest factor to their decision to split up the film into two. But, the book was massive enough to make the split seem like an okay idea. And personally, I think both work as single films and don’t feel like just part one and part two. Now you might disagree, but then again, aren’t most film franchises presented in the same way, just without the “Part 1” or “Part 2” in the title?
Let’s take the Hunger Games franchise, for example. Many people thus far are criticizing Mockingjay Part 1 for feeling like an incomplete movie. Having not read the book, I can’t use this as a reference to see where they actually split the film, but let’s just look from the general audiences’ eyes for a second. They complain that there just isn’t enough to justify for the split. This is debatable, because the film does feel much more like a filter than an actual story, unlike Deathly Hallows Part 1. However, people saying that it ends abruptly clearly don’t watch many blockbusters nowadays.
Catching Fire might have been a complete story, but it ends on a massive cliffhanger that leads directly into Mockingjay Part 1. Yet, Fire‘s ending is much better received than the one for Mockingjay Part 1. Is it solely because of the fact that Catching Fire felt more like a complete story so that the ending was more justified, or does the “Part 1” in the title just lead to easy criticism? Because when you think about it, the ending is just saying, “You want to know what happens next? Then buy your ticket for the next one to find out what goes down!”, essentially leading to an empty argument about cliffhangers.
The same thing goes for Peter Jackson‘s Hobbit trilogy. Granted, these split are mostly from a financial standpoint, but it’s as if most people aren’t even giving these films a shot because they present themselves as only on portion of the story. You won’t find a review about The Hobbit that doesn’t bring up the fact that it’s split into three different parts. It’s lazy backlash for what’s essentially a director’s cut, just spread out.
This leads me to the issue for the studio heads that think every big-budget film must end with a two-part stinger; they lead to some spotty returns or lower critical reception. The drop-off for Deathly Hallows wasn’t that bad domestically and actually gained a little worldwide. And Part 2 debuted to massive numbers, leading every YA franchise to think that they can pull it off too.
Twilight did this with Breaking Dawn, and it didn’t work out quite as well. Part 1 finished off with a little less than every other film in the franchise besides the first film stateside, even if its worldwide take was a little stronger. But, the film also had (and still has) the lowest critical reception of the bunch with a 24% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This lead to the final half also underperforming slightly, being outgrossed by the second and third films domestically, but cleaning up everywhere else.
Now, we have Hobbit, Hunger Games, and Divergent running into this issue. The first Hobbit should have had no problem beating Return of the King‘s take from a decade before, but it only barely outgrossed it opening weekend and, when adjusted for inflation, would have grossed almost $200 million less than that film had it been released today. With ticket prices raised, the strong fan-base, and a lot of 3D options at hand, this was considered a massive disappointment over here in the states. Granted, it still managed $1 billion from foreign markets, but the fact that it wasn’t one film surely factored into that. Looking at the second, The Desolation of Smaug, only helps this argument.
It seems as if even The Hunger Games themselves are being affected by this. The somewhat large percent drop not only in midnight premiere grosses between Catching Fire ($25.3 million) and Mockingjay Part 1 ($17.0 million), but also in critic ratings (89% compared to 68%) shows that some critics and audiences alike are already tired of the “incomplete” storytelling technique. Which is funny because this is something that Marvel does, which everyone and their grandmothers seem to love as well. The main difference is the lack of “Part 1” in the title. Well, for now.
With many more franchises planning to do the same split with their “final” chapters such as The Avengers franchise, Justice League and even The Stand (which is apparently being split into four separate films, I just feel like this is all getting out of hand, especially for those films that aren’t solely based on a singular novel. What’s the point of having “Part 1” or “Part 2” in the title when all that will do is just turn people off from seeing them until the final half is shown? This is where you have to ask yourself aren’t most sequels the “Part 1” or “Part 2” anyway? It might sound like a dumb question, but with these splits, it’s something that we need to distinguish.
How are these films any different from Matrix Reloaded / Matrix Revolutions back in 2003 and Pirates 2 / Pirates 3 in 2006 and 2007 besides the fact that those other examples are based off books? These films were shot back-to-back and feel like one massive film split into two separate parts, right? But then again, the third film in both franchises dropped off from their predecessors’ grosses, so maybe it’s the fact that the films were just released too close together (like most of these other “epic” two-part finales today).
So what’s the strategy here, because with the right marketing and a quality product, most of these films wouldn’t have an issue reaching the same heights that they did with these splits. Because, with the international grosses aside, these splits aren’t doing quite well. The critics always criticize them for only being one portion of the story, and many people stateside just don’t seem as interested in seeing a film that’s being marketed as one half of a finale when they can just wait and watch them together once the second part comes out.
It’s just a strange Hollywood faze that’s actually been around for a long time, just presented as sequels instead of alienating audience members with reminders that it’s only one portion of a larger story. Hopefully this trend of “Part 1” and “Part 2” ends soon, because solid products are being downgraded and under-appreciated because of how these splits are presented to the general public. I get that it might be infuriating for those who read these books (even though I’ve read three of the four series’ I’ve brought up and I had no problem with), but for those who don’t know about these franchises, it’s giving them what might be a misconception of the quality of these films.