The Lord of the Rings and the Serial Cliffhanger

Ryan Gilbey, writing for The Guardian:

In this Netflix-fixated age of instant gratification, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies did something both antiquated and radical: they restored to cinema-going the old-fashioned thrill of the serial cliffhanger. The difference is that 1940s and 1950s audiences had only to wait a week to find out the resolution. Middle Earth enthusiasts, on the other hand, had to while away an entire year between episodes.

Future generations consuming the whole shebang over several days of binge-watching will do well to remember that – and to raise a tankard of mead to those comrades who fell before the finishing line, or who said: “Sod this for a game of soldiers, I’ll wait for the DVDs so I can fast-forward through all the boring bits.” (One character in Kevin Smith’s comedy Clerks II described the first trilogy as: “Three movies of people walking to a fucking volcano!”)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in November 2001, a mere month before the first Lord of the Rings film (The Fellowship of the Ring).

But with the exception of the seventh and eighth outings, the Harry Potter films are self-contained, with no explicitly loose threads left dangling between pictures.

Audiences had experienced little to compare with the protracted suspense at the end of The Two Towers, when the slithering Gollum is apparently poised to murder Frodo and Sam. Jackson played the long game and took a gamble that audiences might want to play it, too.

Aside from the fact that “Middle Earth enthusiasts” already knew the ending, this is exactly what I’m talking about.

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