By Darin Skaggs
After seeing the most recent and final Hunger Games movie, I found myself disappointed in a series I was invested in. I got to thinking about all the other series that have come to some sort of end and found that I, as well as the general public, was never fully satisfied with the final chapter in movie franchises. Whether it is the final Harry Potter, Return of the Jedi or even in movies that are really good like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and its many endings, it seems it is difficult to bring on closure to a film franchise.
Let’s start with The Hunger Games series. The first one came out in March 2012 and was a big hit, some critics liked it, but I found it to be a run-by-the-numbers Young Adult book-to-film adaptation. Gary Ross, the director, seemed to be controlled by the studio. The script must have had notes saying, “Include this scene from the book. And this one. And this one too.” Francis Lawrence took over for the rest of the series and made Catching Fire which acts as The Empire Strikes Back of the series with the cliffhanger ending as wells as the quality of character development. Then Mockingjay Part 1 comes out, again with Lawrence in the director’s helm, and he made a good movie. Except this one was only a part one of a two part story, but the direction and screenwriting made for a really good chapter in The Hunger Games series. Then came Mockingjay Part 2 which feels like the previous two films, but obviously something is different. The movie is pretty good until after its most powerful scenes. Then it seems to just lose all the steam the previous projects built up. Just like the complaints given to the third Lord of the Rings film, the movie has multiple endings, in which some work better than others. The final scene however is a poor one, giving a dark series a not only overly optimistic ending, but it also gives it a cheesy ending. If it ended two minutes before would the movie be all that better? People might just be up in arms about that it was too down of an ending.
Let us go back to one of the first examples of a series of movies that were, for the most part, planned that fell on its face near the ending, and that is the Star Wars saga. Now when George Lucas made Star Wars in 1977 he did not know the future of any upcoming sequels were even going to be a possibility. Then the film was a huge success and Lucas knew he could make his other films. The Empire Strikes Back came out a few years later and now the two will forever be debated which is the better masterpiece. Then there is Return of the Jedi, which is not in that discussion and actually the only debate happening is whether even a good film or not. What happened here? Why are the first two films so near perfect and the finale to these films just mediocre at best? Now don’t get me wrong, Luke and Vader builds up throughout the series and comes to a successful closure. Those parts work incredibly well. And Ewoks are really stupid, that is fine, but I do not think that is what makes it bad. The whole film, with the inclusion of the entire Luke Skywalker story, seems forced and is filled with people not even trying anymore. Harrison Ford is still cool, only because he is full of charisma, but clearly does not care and is working here for the paycheck. Carrie Fisher, who plays Princess Leia, feels like she is basically reading her lines off the page, no motivation. There is no emotion in the actor’s delivery when previously all the actors looked like they cared and maybe even were having fun. Even Lucas, who I think was going through a divorce at the time, did not give the project his all. There is a large “get this over with” mood that looms over the film. If a group spends too much time with a movie franchise they probably get tired with it. If I eat a turkey sandwich every day for lunch eventually I will want something else. Ford, Fisher, Lucas and most likely the rest of the crew wanted to move on to their peanut butter and jelly instead.
These observations are true for TV shows as well. In the US version of The Office around season six you can tell people are tired and the plots are simpler. Steve Carrell even seems a bit worn out, which makes sense because he leaves the next season. In that season the entire crew step up their game to give Carrell a good send off and make for a better season in the late run of The Office. When Carrell leaves though, after a bit of trying, everyone just seems to give up again and go for the easier stories and jokes. They reuse jokes having Ed Helm’s Andy character be boss and have him make the same mistakes as Michael Scott did. It is lazy, don’t get me wrong, but here might just be an example of people needing a paycheck or just needing a job to keep them busy. It is clear that they have passion in the beginning, and maybe even an end game, but drop all that to stall to keep the show on. The same goes with the show Dexter. The last two seasons bring up some interesting storylines, but are dropped and gotten over with quickly to make for more episodes. I know people need money, need jobs or just lose interest in the repetitiveness, but in a perfect world there would be someone saying that stopping in a certain place would be a good idea.
That brings me to series finale of TV shows. With the few finales I have seen they all do a few things: They all reference previous events where it might be for comedy or to get the viewer all emotional, it brings closure for and with the characters and throws a few twist and turns along the way. Were any of the finales ever perfect though? Don’t get me wrong I like a great deal of the ones I have seen. The Lost finale which is more divisive then most is great to me, but has a bunch of problems surrounding it. There is a small sense of laziness that comes from doing a TV show for so long and it tries to fill its nearly two and half run time with every call back it could come up with, that takes away from other characters closing moments like Claire turning evil, then turning not evil, then turning sad, then becoming hopeful in all but five to ten minutes of the finale. It is a problem I find in finales that there is not enough time to give every character and when the characters that the audience cares about less get there scene it slows down the moment. In the season three finale of Arrested Development, which initially was a series finale everyone gets a lot of jokes it seems and character beats, except Gob. He seemed to be a highlight of the show, but he gets maybe two scenes. Not saying it is the creator’s faults, because Fox didn’t cared about the show and they only had 23 minutes runtime, but still you feel short changed by the show. There might not be any solution for this. Every finale might just have to be given pretty good status and just meant to be enjoyed and not proclaimed as a perfect work of art. Which frankly, there is nothing wrong with.
Now let’s head back to where this long thought began, the Young Adult novel being adapted to film. The Hunger Games has ended and with much disappointment. This whole phase started with the Harry Potter films. The films are all good, in different ways, Harry is innocent at first and it feels real. He slowly grows up and takes a stand, which leads to some of the best films in the series. Then The Deathly Hallows comes around to end it all. Personally, I think splitting the final book in to two separate movies was a big mistake, The Hunger Games also suffers from this for different reasons. In Part 1 of The Deathly Hallows it is merely a drama, there is a beautiful, intimate dancing sequence and a lot of fantastic discussions. Then a year later Part 2 came out and it was all action. The two movies did not blend, the action was fun, but did not flow with the previous work. Now if it was all one movie, who knows if it would have worked, but what they did was a partial failure. The only other Young Adult movie series to end was Twilight which not many take to seriously, but the finale to this series is an odd one. The books are mostly about a love story, and sometimes a triangle and sometimes wanting to be a vampire. It seems like a soap opera with supernatural creatures. Then the finale comes and the hints of action scattered throughout the series finally make sense. The whole last third of this movie is an insane fight between whoever the bad guys is and whoever the good guys were. There are, bloodless mind you, decapitations and many characters die. It is extremely crazy and does have a cop out moment, but this scene almost works better than most endings to a franchise. The movie basically gets to have its cake and eat it to, the cake being a burst of vampire death and the actual meal being a sappy, happily-ever-after type ending.
Now there are the Young Adults film adaptations that are being made that not many people actually care about like the Divergent series, which I have no clue about and The Maze Runner films, which I do like a surprising amount. The Maze Runner takes from Lost’s early seasons and answers nearly no questions and spends plenty of its runtime raising more questions. The action is what makes the films, especially the second one, and the films will most likely fall apart when they have to be concluded. The big mystery trying to be solved as these young kids run around avoiding maze monsters, crazy zombie like humans chasing them and scenery chewing Aidan Gillien all make this series worth watching. It creates an argument that the ending is just something that needs to happen and if it is good that is a positive and if its bad at least the journey was fun, which is what I think with most of the things I mentioned. Lost Season 3 is one of the most important entertainment products ever to me, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back mean the world to me and some of the Harry Potter’s are absolutely brilliant. The finale is a challenging task and an argument could be made that it doesn’t even matter, but how we got there is what really matters. It would never ruin a series if the previous works were worth anything.