class=”alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-28519″ style=”margin: 10px;” title=”Harry Potter Deathly Halllows Poster” src=”https://www.heyuguys.com/images/2010/07/Harry-Potter-Deathly-Halllows-Poster-e1278107316712-220×132.jpg” alt=”” width=”220″ height=”132″ />Last weekend saw the latest installment of the Harry Potter franchise surpass all the previous movies’ performances at the box office to lead the weekend with a US opening of around $125 million. This was a massive success for Warner Bros, making them the leading box office performing studio so far this year. With only Tangled offering any real competition the following weekend, the success is sure to continue.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is part one of a two part adaptation of JK Rowling’s source novel. Splitting one film into two parts has become an increasingly popular habit in recent years, and with part two of Deathly Hallows sure to match its predecessor financially, it looks like a winning decision. However, I have to ask the question – is this recent trend an attempt at providing the right platform for epic tales to be told, or is it a shameless cash-in employed by greedy studio execs?
There are clear reasons why using this technique is a good idea, particularly in the case of Deathly Hallows. It’s important to point out that as a film (or films) primarily aimed at children, there is a necessity to keep Harry Potter at a reasonable duration. The stories appeal to children as young as four or five. Expecting children of this age to sit still for an epic of Lawrence of Arabia proportions is unrealistic, and would even be irresponsible. Deathly Hallows is a very long book, and whilst adaptations of novels are frequently condensed for cinematic adaptation, as the last installment of the series there was a responsibility to the fans to encompass the whole of the source material.
The problem occurs if there is not a natural stopping point in the middle of the book. Chopping any coherent story halfway through the middle presents a very real problem. Books, like movies, tend to be written in three acts. By making a film based on the first 50% of a novel, you risk creating a movie with an unbalanced structure. If there isn’t an exciting cliffhanger somewhere around the midway point, as well as a tangible sense of character progression, a part one movie will end with a whimper rather than a bang. This can be very much subjective though, and depends on what your idea of a good ending for a first part is. Do you want to be left hanging, desperately wanting more? Or do you want some form of resolution to the events of the story up to this point? The ideal is, obviously, some combination of the two.
Cutting a movie up, or specifically choosing to make a particularly long movie so as to show it in two parts, can be far preferable to the ‘cash-in’ sequel. With Harry Potter, the filmmakers could be confident that the movie would be a big draw, so there was no financial risk involved in making two movies. It is a lot harder to make this kind of decision with an original property. You can have no real assurance that a single movie will recoup costs, so to spend the extra money on a longer shoot, and all that is involved, is a major risk. This is how we end up with the cash-in, the inferior sequel. All the good ideas are encompassed in the first movie, and a satisfying conclusion is provided. Then, when the movie experiences big box office success, attempts are made to tack more of the same on in a follow-up or two, as in the Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean series.
I would much rather see a great idea split into two parts, thoroughly exploring all the different facets of the story, than be subjected to a mediocre attempt at a sequel. There is also a very practical aspect to shooting two films back to back. The sets, locations and cast are all in place, and well organised principle shooting can be completed in far less time than two full shoots would add up to. This makes it far more cost effective, and also helps avoid the inevitable continuity problems. Warner Bros have been very canny in producing the Potter films in short order, meaning the principle actors have not aged too far in advance of their characters, and therefore been able to portray their parts (reasonably) believably.
I think it is fair to say that the most prominent examples of ‘double dipping’ have actually been honest attempts at effective management. Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill was originally conceived as one movie, but being Tarantino, the screenplay ran very long. This led to the producers making the decision to show the film in two parts, so as to let the whole story be seen without audiences being put off by a butt numbing duration. The reverse was true with Tarantino’s Grindhouse collaboration with Robert Rodriguez. Originally meant to be shown as a double feature, Death Proof and Planet Terror were released separately in the end.
The story of Mesrine, the infamous French gangster, was wisely made in two parts rather than one movie, allowing sufficient length to tell as much of the man’s fascinating story as possible. The resulting Killer Instinct and Public Enemy No 1 were fantastic examples of cinematic storytelling. One film that could have benefited from being split into two parts was Red Cliff. The full feature is over five hours long, and was shown in its native land in two portions. Here in the West however we were given one movie, with an astonishing 90 odd minutes cut out to ensure that audiences could endure it. I would have much preferred to see the full story in two parts, as in Steven Soderbergh’s Che Parts One and Two.
Harry Potter has been very successful at the box office, and the vast majority of fans have been ecstatic with the quality of the movie. They will be overjoyed that they still have one more Potter film to enjoy, and will be eagerly looking forward to the final, final installment. I think that the decision to make two movies instead of cramming a rich and popular concluding story into one overlong film was the right decision, and one that was made for the right reasons. There is definitely a place for the two part movie, and as long as the technique is not overused, which up till now it has not, then I will continue to welcome this method of epic filmmaking.
Bazmann-You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann