Cliffhangers are the norm in movie and TV storytelling these days. It’s not unusual to get to the credits of anything without a significant hanging thread compelling you to get to the next episode as fast as possible.
My family and I just watched the third (and final) season premiere of Netflix’s “Lost in Space.” And of course, our 11-year-old son was pleading at the end of the episode that we blow through his bedtime to watch the second episode. (As there are only 8, I held the line to extend the joy over these upcoming viewing weeks.)
Keeping Track of the Jupiter 2’s Course
This fun, non-stop sci-fi series has been constructed on an endless number of cliffhangers, and it’s been especially challenging as a viewer to wait between seasons to see what happens. It’s helpful that Netflix automatically served up a recap of season 2 to kick things off. The writers enjoy dropping breadcrumbs, and you really need to keep track of developing plot points across the seasons.
Yes, it’s been hard to handle the long pause between the second and third seasons of “Lost in Space.” It’s been almost 2 years! (Yes, there were Covid-19 production delays.) But the producers have committed to get the fans to the finish line. (I can’t yet speak to the characters’ success on that important question.)
You’d think that properly ending any story is an essential technique. But of course, viewership numbers can sometimes kill off a series prematurely and leave the cliffhanger… hanging.
It’s not bad storytelling. Its economics. But ultimately, it actually is bad storytelling.
For a time, I wondered if the new “Dune” would fall into this category.
Why do Movies have Cliffhangers to Sequels that aren’t Greenlit?
The writers and producers of “Dune” wisely chose to tackle just the first half of the book (unlike the 1984 flick, which tried to cram it all in).
The start of “Dune” even includes a title graphic that say “Part One.” And yes, the movie ends on a cliffhanger, although it plays more like a chapter ending. It’s arguably the film’s weakest element. But you accept it, because there’s going to be a part two… right?
Well, after I watched it with my son on the day of its premiere in October, I immediately did some Googling to see when the sequel was coming out, and I was shocked with what I found.
It’s not that they hadn’t shot the sequel yet. It’s that the sequel hadn’t even been greenlit! They were waiting to see how successful the first film is.
I get the economics, but come on!
How Good is Half of “Dune?”
Okay, so they did green-light the sequel a few days later. (The sequel will be released in October 2023.)
But imagine if the box office wasn’t so kind to “Dune.” We would only have gotten half a story.
As it turned out, “Dune” was a big success. And my son and I liked it too.
It’s a perfect family film if you’re regulars in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, there’s lots of action and PG-13-level violence. But If your kids can handle “The Avengers,” “Dune” shouldn’t be a problem. “Dune” is more mature in its storytelling style and more serious in tone. And I think it’s a great next step for a young sci-fi fan.
The Economics can Ruin a Movie Fan’s Day
I can’t dispute economics, but it would have been so much better from a viewer’s perspective if both movies were made back to back, like the second and third installments of “The Matrix” series. (Can’t wait for the fourth one, even though it’s been 18 years!)
Hey, what about a three or four-part “Dune” miniseries for HBO Max? (Yes, again that means covering all of the content.)
Ultimately, If you’re going to tell one story, I feel you’ve got to commit to telling the whole story! Waiting for box office numbers can tragically lead to movies without an ending and very cranky fans.
On the other hand, maybe you’ve just got to have some faith that things are going to work out the way they should. I’m sure director Dennis Villeneuve had faith that he’d get his shot to direct his “Dune” sequel.”
And remember when the pilot of the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot came out in 2003 with a huge cliffhanger? The actual ground-breaking sci-fi series didn’t show up until 2005. So having to wait is not without precedent.
And then there’s “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” We had to wait another three years to find out Han’s fate.
But in this age of countless streaming options and a glut of great content to watch, fans can be fickle.
If there’s a cliffhanger, please don’t make us wait too long for what comes next.