It has become culturally acceptable of late to turn one book into multiple movies.
Transforming a single tale into two movies has certainly drawn some lines in the proverbial sand among audiences. The recent trend of turning one book, one story arc, into more than one movie has been considered genius by some and a capitalistic cash grab by others. Regardless of the motivations of movie production companies seeking to make the silver-screen version of TV miniseries, one thing is certain: The concept has changed the way we adapt books into movies.
And it all began with Harry Potter, who famously swore he was up to no good…
Deathly Hallows or Hallowed Beginnings?
Two Deathly Hallows movies makes sense—on paper, in theory, and by most accounts in practice. At 607 pages (UK edition; the US editions have a larger font and are therefore longer), writer Steve Kloves and director David Yates could not have unraveled the Peverell mystery with any aplomb without sacrificing the complex battle of Hogwarts or poignancy of Harry’s sacrifice.
The first half succeeds more than the second; though critics and audiences gave Part I a lukewarm reception based on its meandering narrative (the cost of only completing half a story—no natural climax or falling action, only rising action). Kloves made the best decision to split the films after Malfoy Manor (which sees a fractured trio reuniting and proving how much they mean to each other while providing information crucial to completing the mission, and also allows the final film to take place mostly at Hogwarts and bring the series full circle), but he simply couldn’t prevent the film from feeling like the setup to another movie, because that’s what it is.
The second half suffers for a different reason: too much change. It makes for an adequate conclusion, certainly, but most people seem to agree that J.K. Rowling wrote a far more satisfying ending to Harry’s story, controversial epilogue notwithstanding. In Part II, Kloves appeared to think his final screenplay needed more Harry/Voldemort time, more will-Neville-kill-Nagini suspense, and as many explosions as possible. The aftermath of Harry’s sacrifice and The Boy Who Lived’s final showdown with Tom Riddle receive a particularly watered-down imagining. Action! Tension! Special Effects! clearly meant more to Kloves and Yates than justice for all their characters.
Despite kinks with the adaptation, however, Kloves and Yates did succeed in splitting one giant book brimming with movie material into two separate stories—and two box office openings.
Breaking Dawn or Breaking Down?
“Breaking Dawn” is actually naturally divided into three parts, or books, by Meyer herself.
One would assume that, if the author designed the story in sections, that breaking the adaptation of the novel into two movies would be easy, right?
If audience members were to describe Breaking Dawn: Part 1 in one word, it would probably be tulle.
You know tulle? It’s that fluffy, kind-of-pretty stuff of which wedding dresses are made? It doesn’t have much substance on its own, but it adds volume and vague definition to whatever it graces… and there are yards and yards artfully arranged to make Bella’s veil.
Speaking of Bella’s veil, how would you like to watch thirty minutes of wedding preparation, ceremony, and reception speeches before you even get to the drawn-out honeymoon sequence?
Yup, padding on top of padding. Another pitfall of adapting one book into two movies. With a running time of one hour and fifty-seven minutes, more than a quarter of the screen time focuses on the less than twenty percent of the text dedicated to the first film. And it’s not even action-packed excitement! It’s need-to-sit-through-the-speeches-before-we-get-to-the-good-stuff waiting. Heavens above, the audience watches Bella put on make-up twice!
This tulle-themed padding for length would not seem quite so painful if screenwriter Rosenberg did not have other options at her disposal for the adaptation. Breaking Dawn: Part One adapts the first two “books” of the novel, and Breaking Dawn: Part Two draws out the third section. However, the interesting element of Meyer’s text is that the point of view changes from Bella in the first book, to Jacob in the second, back to Bella in the third book again. The tone is radically different while readers follow Jacob, and so much of the story gains perspective through his eyes. Unfortunately, it’s very self-reflective, thought-driven, and often narrated through his telepathic conversations with the wof pack–and thus tough to translate.
It makes sense why Rosenberg and the director, Condon, didn’t want to tackle the challenge of a werewolf point of view and instead focused on Bella’s transformation, but they lose the opportunity to provide the audience with just a little more depth and tension-filled action.
Which, of course, is something they tried to amend in Breaking Dawn: Part Two by adding a battle scene completely extrapolated into a mountain of tulle from a faint thread in the text and meeting a whole slew of secondary characters. Although, the creative team’s commitment to action made for a much more interesting film overall. But instead of expanding the viewer’s understanding of the characters, the chosen extensions merely extend the tale. From an adaptation perspective, both movies seem to stretch the boundaries of the story, and the pockets of the producers, while never quite making it to the beautiful realization of dawn.
Mockingjay–Hope or A Game?
The Hunger Games series followed the trend of adapting the final chapter of impacting young adult novel series into two parts, but were they able to avoid some of the common pitfalls of previous adaptations?
Mockingjay: Part One follows Katniss’s journey as she discovers who she is after trauma, her role in life in District 13, and how she will impact the revolution. The film ends with a specter from her past life nearly strangling what little hope she had achieved and she wonders if the price of influence is worth the result. Mockingjay: Part Two watches Katniss make decisions that provide her with her goal go eliminate Snow, but cost her nearly everything in the process. In some ways this is the same general story arc The Twilight Saga tried to achieve. And they definitely prettified her struggle a bit.
Yet it’s more.
The creators of Mockingjay: Part One use the time to explore the rich complex arena of political propaganda, the heartbreak of war, the rich cultures of Panem, the struggle of returning again and again to fight…. and it is on this foundation that the production team is able to build the action-packed Mockingjay: Part Two. The audience knows the struggle it took to get to this point and witnessed Katniss’s character grow in a depth that was lacking in the fast-paced novel. When the final credits role of both films, it feels somewhat deserved. And reflections lack the shock value of over-excessive special effects or tiresome yards of tulle because the adaptation followed the growth of the characters instead of inserting more “story.”
A New Era
As long as there is money to be made, movie-makers will adapt books into as many movies as possible, e.g. The Hobbit.
Mockingjay Part One & Two revealed something. Sure, it wasn’t exactly faithful to the book at times, and the final movie contained more than its fair share of action, but the story grew naturally out of the development of Katniss and other characters and their world. Instead of answering, “How can we fit this book into two movies?” The films appear to respond to the question, “How can this adaptation grow this story?”
And, if more movie-makers consider the latter question, Adapt That has new hope for the future of movies made from young adult fiction.
But for the love of story! Could we get some more creative names around here other than “Part One” and “Part Two”? A creative writing professor would have had the screenwriters’ heads for such lack of creativity. Sheesh.
Harry Potter– Collider, Twilight– PluggedIn, Hunger Games–Collider.