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Commentary: ‘The Hobbit’ falling victim to filmmakers stretching franchise

An Unexpected Journey’ is scheduled to hit theaters Dec. 14.

When the “Harry Potter” franchise was ready to be wrapped up, filmmakers made the decision to split the adaptation of the seventh and final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” into two parts. It was certainly a financial decision – it makes sense that a major studio would want to keep a huge money-making franchise around as long as possible – but it was a creative decision as well.

“Deathly Hallows” was, like many of the “Harry Potter” books, incredibly long. The U.S. edition was more than 700 pages, and almost every one of them is vital to the story. It would have been a real chore to condense it all down into one feature-length passage, and thus audiences paid to see “Part 1” and “Part 2” of the film adaptation.

While this split was probably necessary, the fact that it worked set off one of the most unfortunate trends in modern blockbuster filmmaking. The “Twilight” films took a page out of the “Harry Potter” playbook and split its final book into two padded-out parts, and by all accounts the “Hunger Games” series plans to do the exact same thing. Next week, this trend will reach its potential nadir with the release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” Dec. 14. This marks the beginning of “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson’s new Middle Earth trilogy that just happens to be based on a single 300-page book.

If anybody could pull this off, it is probably Peter Jackson. His “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is a terrific feat of filmmaking, but the difference this time around is that “The Hobbit” is not meant to be a trilogy. It is meant to be a single, standalone story. There’s no reason for this one book to be spread out across two movies, let alone three. His “Hobbit” trilogy might wind up being great, but the prospect of sitting through two-and-a-half hours of appetizers and then waiting a year for the next course is just not all that appealing.

As more and more literary adaptations attempt to chop up the source material as much as possible, any illusion that these films are purely creative endeavors is going to fade away. When a studio or filmmaker splits the final “Twilight” or “Hunger Games” movie in two, they are, in essence, doubling their profits. It really couldn’t be a more brazen commercial move, and that certainly seems to be the case with “The Hobbit.” Jackson can expand upon the Middle Earth universe all he wants, but the primary reason he’s stretching it out this much is because he’s going to get more money out of it by the end.

This decision also screws over the audiences, as it makes the movie-going experience dramatically less satisfying. When a movie ends on a cliffhanger like “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” did, it doesn’t quite leave viewers with the feeling they’ve gotten their money’s worth. And yet just 12 months later, they paid the exact same amount of money for a ticket to see the second half. Once audiences catch on to this tactic, it’s probably going to fade away just like anything else. In this case, the sooner that happens the better.

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