With the news that the third book in the Divergent series – Allegiant – will be split into two films, one thought springs to mind – this is a terrible idea. Why take a book that is already light on plot and try to stretch over two entire films? The answer is fairly obvious: money.
Divergent would not be the first case. This new cinema trend of taking the final book in any popular young adult series – Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games have all taken part – and splitting it into two movies started back in 2010. In theory, J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard is to blame for starting this glut of overstretched literary adaptations, but at the time that the final Potter installment – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – was being produced, the split actually made sense for reasons that were not just solely monetary… though certainly the thought of being able to squeeze out one extra worldwide hit could not have hurt the decision. Deathly Hallows was an incredibly massive book, and rather than have to excise huge swaths of the story, which would undoubtedly have left fans of the books upset or disappointed, the producers realized that there was more than enough content in the final book to easily fill two films. The fans got to keep all their favorite scenes, the producers got to make twice the money, and the world got two excellent movies. Everybody wins.
After Potter, the viability of the two-film split started to get murkier and more questionable. The final Twilight film, Breaking Dawn, was the next to be split into two parts. Unlike Potter, however, the final Twilight book did not have enough content to reasonably create two satisfying individual films. In order to split the novel into two films, the major climatic resolutions and battles were held off until Breaking Dawn: Part 2 – leaving Breaking Dawn: Part 1 to mostly kill time until part two. Now, filler can be alright in a novel, but to make an entire film of filler? That is not a film at all, and critics agreed. According to RottenTomatoes, critics in general found the film to be incredibly boring. When a thin novel is stretched across two films, the results are slow and plodding. Breaking Dawn as one film could have quite possibly been action-packed and exciting, but by splitting it in two, the resulting films are genuinely awful, neither a full film in its own right. Owing to its large source material, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was clearly the exception to the rule, and should not be setting a new trend. So why, if a book is obviously not capable of substantiating two films, would producers try to make two, knowing that the results will more likely than not be mediocre to bad movies? The answer, of course, is money. A film based on a popular series of books will always generate high box office returns regardless of if the film is poorly reviewed – the diehard fans will turn out to see it no matter what. So what does it matter to the studio if the film is poor? The film will make money, making it a worthwhile endeavor, regardless of the film’s quality.
So what does this mean for Divergent? Unfortunately, this case would appear to be more Twilight than Harry Potter. The statement the studio released stated that “The storytelling arc and world of the characters lend themselves perfectly to two films,” when in fact, Allegiant is a more cerebral story, dealing more in ideas and themes than in action sequences – the complete opposite of lending itself to two films. Not to mention it was the most poorly received of the Divergent series, with many critics and fans finding it aimless, unsatisfying, and ultimately disappointing. With no sensical storytelling reason to split the thin final book into two, the real reason is clear: money talks.
Commentary by Alex Warheit