Heresy of the Week: In defence of endings

money fort unfinished peter jackson CAD

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

With series increasingly in vogue in film, TV, books and games, the value of a satisfactory sense of finality has gotten lost in the mix. Branding and marketing weight wins over story, meaning that ideas get flogged well past the point where they should be laid to rest.

Everyone loves a good series.

No, I’m not being sarcastic; despite what complaints I may have made about it, I loved Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I rather enjoyed the Hobbit too. And though there may be valid concerns about Peter Jackson’s motivation to split it into three, I am pleased with the direction that it seems to be heading in.

But that said, it has become all too common for ideas to be dragged out in pursuit of the franchise. It manages to net a lot of money, undoubtedly. But if money was all that counted, then Avatar would be a good film.

Which brings me to my first point. Avatar. Now, I didn’t much like James Cameron’s return to science-fiction. 3D nonsense aside, its plot was puddle deep and its characters were cardboard cut-outs. But the wafer-thin plot is to be stretched over three further films in a schedule so tight that it can only be intended to wring each last penny from cinemagoers.

It’s not that franchises are always bad. Star Trek has so far produced twelve films, and whilst they haven’t all been unqualified success, they remain fresh and interesting enough that I am still excited at each new release.

But at the other end of the scale you have the likes of Saw, Paranormal Activity, and particularly the Final Destination films. All of these have taken core ideas (mutilation, self-slamming doors, and death by household objects) and replayed them over and over again until they’ve essentially made the same film several times.

And for the arch-example, look at Pirates of the Caribbean. The Curse of the Black Pearl was fresh, exciting and hugely entertaining. Especially for a film based on a theme-park ride. Even Dead Man’s Chest was enjoyable. But with after the disappointingly flat At World’s End and the frankly unnecessary On Stranger Tides, what hope is there that 2016’s Dead Men Tell No Tales will breathe life into the franchise?

What has become lost is the satisfaction of an ending. Joss Whedon’s Serenity was a great film in its own right, but is best viewed alongside Firefly, as providing closure to a story. Similarly, one of my favourite TV shows Farscape was cut prematurely short, leading to a near-perfect conclusion with the “Peacekeeper Wars” miniseries. Even Breaking Bad recently showed a refreshing awareness of its own mortality — whatever issues I might have with its ending, it did know when to end.

It comes down to the tension between commercialism and creativity. One pulls towards giving the story the conclusion it deserves. The other will bring a loved — or not — classic back over and over again like Prometheus having his liver pecked out each day, just for a few more quid.

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