From The Hobbit to The Hunger Games, the curse of the movie trilogy

Ian McKellan On the set of the Hobbit

Contra Aimee Mann and Harry Nilsson, three, not one, is the lousiest number that you’ll ever do.

At the multiplexes, as we start the doomsday countdown to Christmas, our screens are chocker with trilogies, parts of trilogies or culminations of trilogies: a redefinition of the term “triple-threat”. No sooner have Divergent and The Maze Runner’s first instalments decamped from cinemas than we are immediately favoured with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, and yet another Peter Jackson Hobbit movie.

Mockingjay should have been the culminating panel of a trilogy but – as happens more and more often now – its backers sniffed the money to be had from stretching things out just a little longer, taking a leaf from the Harry Potter franchise, which likewise split its last instalment just to shake every last penny from the piggy banks of that demographic I once heard collectively referred to as the “Harry Potter generation”, a phrase that made me die inside just a little.

The new Tolkien movie The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is only a threequel by virtue – or so say its makers – of there being too much good stuff for a mere diptych, the format originally planned for The Hobbit movies. With Peter Jackson at the helm, this seems fair enough, if you favour his particular brand of hysterical, multi-climacteric-filled epic film-making. But I’ve been burned before on this whole trilogy deal; I’m twice bitten, thrice shy.

Can you blame me? I should have learned my lesson early on, with The Godfather Part III, with Return Of The Jedi, and even with Back To The Future Part III, an early pioneer in this entirely regrettable field. The Grim Arithmetic of Three was underlined by the arrival of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, incoherent successors that retroactively besmirched the near-perfection of their original, and the many unnecessary and increasingly wan successors to Pirates Of The Caribbean.

Then there are examples of galloping sequelitis and threequelitis: Spider-Man, not just a trilogy, but scarcely five years later, a revamping for another trilogy-plus-one; OK, we’ll call that a quartet, but all inspiration will be gone for part three, as most of it was for part two. And then, as state of the art in the field of trillogical endeavour as he is in many other fields, we have George Lucas. The new, third Hobbit movie arrives in the wake of teaser trailers for the third Star Wars trilogy; imagine that, a trilogy of trilogies! And Lucas was creatively spent halfway through the last one. Let’s see JJ Abrams tackle this problem for him. I had my doubts about his second Star Trek movie, and he’s already checked out of the third one, so maybe he’s aware of the problem.

And it’s a problem, people. The Third Way is an illusion; it leads only to The Hangover III.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by John Patterson, for The Guardian on Friday 5th December 2014 13.30 Europe/London

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