When Will It Stop? Enough With the Two-Part Finale Quadrilogy Fad
by Alex Billington
November 26, 2014
Hollywood loves repeating itself. This week alone we're getting new trailers for brand new Star Wars and Jurassic Park movies, like it's the 90s all over again. But there is a new trend that is becoming increasingly frustrating - the two-part split finale of film-to-book series like Twilight, Harry Potter and now Hunger Games. With the first half of Mockingjay, the finale of The Hunger Games, now playing in theaters (my full review) the unsettling feeling of "why?!" has grown in me. This film once again proves that the quality of the work diminishes in exchange for a desire to make more money on a franchise that's temporarily popular. When will this fad end? Because it needs to stop. Don't Hollywood executives already own enough yachts?
To properly dive into this editorial, I wanted to look at where this fad came from, how we even got to this point. Along with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, there are a few other recent series being turned into a quadrilogy. For years we were all satisfied with just a trilogy - Star Wars, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, The Dark Knight, everything big that made tons of money was just a trilogy. Sure, maybe they'll make another trilogy (or more sequels) in a few years. But now it seems to be about squeezing out every penny by extending one story into multiple movies - when it's totally unnecessary. Aside from The Hobbit, the Mockingjay finale feels way too dragged out. And the quality of the film suffers.
Not only did Mockingjay earn less at the box office than the first two movies on opening weekend (though still the biggest opening of the year), but the average scores/ratings have dropped down from the first two (64 vs 67 & 75 via Metacritic). The loudest discussions I heard during that weekend were "why?" Why do we have to go see Part 1 when everyone is saying it's only half a movie? My impression is that opening weekend earnings were down because not as many people want to pay to see half of a movie. They'd rather wait until next year when both parts are out together (of course we expect back-to-back showings then, just hold out).
Frustration with Hollywood's decision to split a one-part finale into two-parts is spreading from movie fans to regular audiences. Of course I'm not the only one complaining, evident by this tweet from Duncan Jones:
There is only one good reason to split the end of a trilogy into two parts; Because you want to buy a big-ass yacht.
— Duncan Jones (@ManMadeMoon) November 21, 2014
Is it really all about the money? Why are Hollywood executives ignoring the complaints and doing it their way, when even the fans want one movie? There's no clear answer here, other than yes it is all about the money, and perhaps that's all they can see. But it becomes a problem when the quality starts to drop, and that was certainly the case with Mockingjay. There were many scenes that felt like added expositional fluff that the writers had to fit in otherwise it would be a 90 minute movie. And if you split a grand finale into two parts, they better not be 90 minutes each. Fans want their money worth. Unfortunately, it felt like this never built to anything exciting and was only leading to the second half, which we'll have to go see next year.
But is giving them half a movie with strained plotting actually giving audiences their money's worth? I don't think so. Then again, money talks, and they are still making millions. And by the end, they'll be sitting on at least $1 billion earned off of The Hunger Games. But I'm worried that money is going to make this fad turn into a trend which will turn into the norm. And those execs will get another yacht or two, and we'll suffer through double-dip sequels that could've been better. But who am I to complain? I don't work for the movie studios, and I did enjoy Mockingjay, just not as much as the first two. So when did this madness start?
As far as I can tell, this most recent trend all began with the Alien Quadrilogy box set from 2003, which was where that buzzword originated from. In all truth, "quadrilogy" is not even a real word. The real word for a series of four items, following up "trilogy", is actually "tetralogy". Hollywood didn't get into the split finale, however, until Harry Potter decided to finish up with a split two-parter after six movies. Around the same time that was announced (in early 2008), Guillermo del Toro (and Peter Jackson) were working on figuring out how to turn The Hobbit (just one book) into multiple movies, and Twilight was starting to head to its conclusion with a billion dollar haul by extending the fourth book into two films. On Deathly Hallows:
"I swear to you it was born out of purely creative reasons," producer David Heyman told the LA Times. "Unlike every other book, you cannot remove elements of this book."
That quote comes direct from the LA Times original story about the Harry Potter finale being split in two. The article is packed with quotes from everyone in the production defending the split, including author J.K. Rowling, with all of them claiming it was important to keep everything from the book. If that is the real reason, then why is it just this book that can't have anything cut? Is it just the prestige of the "finale"? It doesn't make sense. And my least favorite Harry Potter movies? Part 1 and 2 of Deathly Hallows, both were a big let down after some amazing movies before. This seems to be the trend - the split always results in a drop in quality, despite quotes defending the choice for creative reasons. However, it doesn't really pay off.
Editor's Note: I was reminded (thanks to my friend Cory Everett) of another key split that set a precedent a few years before Harry Potter split its finale. Quentin Tarantino's double bill of Kill Bill, Part 1 and 2, was one of the first mainstream split stories organized by Harvey Weinstein (so do we blame him?). The first half of Kill Bill hit theaters in 2003, and the second another year later; while the original uncut "Whole Bloody Affair" version was only shown in 2011. I remember going to theaters twice to see both movies, and had no complaints, but then again that was a one-off story that wrapped up neatly in two movies - not four.
Looking back through cinematic history, there have been occasional quadrilogy series: Rocky, The Karate Kid, Jaws (sort of), but they're mostly sequels that continue through fourth and sometimes fifth or sixth films. Or sometimes, after the trilogy, they reinvent the series and continue on (kind of like how Jurassic World could be considered the fourth movie in the Jurassic Park series). There's an entire Wikipedia page listing movie series with four entries, but this really seems to be a recent trend at studios. A trend solidified because of financial success in the long run, and how much that outweighs the complaints in the short run.
Here's a few other examples of series where the fourth movie, even if it is just another sequel, seems to be the worst: Indiana Jones (Nuke the Fridge, anyone?); Underworld, Ice Age, Shrek, Spy Kids, Superman (The Quest for Peace, really?) even Transformers. On the flip side, there's [REC] and Rambo which perhaps represent a quadrilogy that ain't so bad. But two series out of, well, everything else? I'll say it again - this needs to stop. But will it stop anytime soon? (I doubt it.) Don't forget that Disney/Pixar just put Toy Story 4 into development, and James Cameron's Avatar has three more back-to-back sequels on the way. At least none of them are split two-part finales, but I fully expect we'll see more of those in the next few years, too.
So what can be done about this? How can we, as moviegoers, make our voices heard? If anything, opting to ignore Mockingjay - Part 1 was the right decision. Showing the studios they can't make as much from a split (even though I'm sure that won't matter once Part 2 hits in late 2015 and makes a bajillion dollars) is the best way to make them listen. Other than that? We just have to suffer through it. The studios will follow the money, and as long as people keep paying for tickets to Part 1 and 2, they'll keep making them that way. I've always hoped that Hollywood would learn and improve, but it seems like they're still addicted to figuring out ways to trick people into paying twice. Because when it comes to "success", box office is still all that matters.
Though here's the truth - I honestly wouldn't mind if it was worth it, if there were actually "purely creative reasons" for it, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Time and time again, the ravenous desire for more and more money has lead to results where creativity and quality are squelched. It's not often that a story already told perfectly in one book really needs to be stretched across two (or more) movies, and maybe that is the difference between Hollywood and the book publishing industry. When it comes to making money, it's not actually about the story any more, instead it's about how they'll convince moviegoers to keep buying tickets no matter what "creative" choices they make. I'd just like a ride (or three) on one of their yachts sometime.
What do YOU think about the Mockingjay split? Are you hoping this fad doesn't continue on?