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To Be Continued...

Posted: November 27, 2005

By Kevin Forest Moreau, Director-in-Chief

Recently in this space, I discussed the decline of the movie industry and what might be done to correct it. When we parted ways at the end of that column, I promised that at least one future idea would be forthcoming. No doubt you've been in an agonized state of breathless anticipation for the last couple of weeks, waiting with baited breath for the next spine-tingling chapter in our pulse-pounding discussion.

Well, wait no longer, true believers! The cliffhanger is over! As we pick up where we left off, our heroine is dangling precariously from the edge of a cliff as our consortium of bad guys -- Internet downloads, bad movies, inconsiderate, cell-phone-using theater patrons -- stomp on her fingers with malicious glee. Who, oh who will save the day?

Flash Gordon, that's who. Or maybe Buck Rogers. Or Batman, Superman, Captain America -- heck, even Sky Captain.

I'm talking about serialization. When your father or grandfather was a little boy, he'd spend his Saturdays at the local movie house, engrossed in a program of cartoons, newsreels and "chapter plays," serialized adventures that continued from week to week starring the likes of Flash Gordon, Superman and other popular heroes of the day.

The influence of these serials can still be felt today, in films like the Star Wars series and Raiders of the Lost Ark. More recently, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Star Wars prequels, the current resurgence of television shows with larger stories that unfold over time (a result of the runaway popularity of last year's hits Lost and Desperate Housewives) -- all of these have proven that audiences don't mind waiting a while between installments of a larger story.

So as an experiment to jump-start excitement at the movies, why not try something similar? Instead of making audiences wait for years between installments, why not borrow from TV -- or from the recent Matrix sequels -- and produce a saga that could unfold over movie screens over a shorter time frame -- say, nine months to a year (something roughly analogous to a TV season).

Here's how it could work: Most movies adhere to a three-act structure -- why not break those acts up into three smaller mini-movies? And then show them one at a time, with a new one unspooling, say, every three months? If the average movie is two hours long, split one up into three acts and you've got three forty-minute installments. It wouldn't be too hard to find a couple of decent cliffhangers in most scripts -- action movies, thrillers, horror movies, even many conventional dramas are built on story beats that constantly heighten tension and increase suspense.

Each act could be bundled either with one or two other serials (for the same price as a regular movie ticket) or with a standard feature-length film, or perhaps a slightly shorter feature, from a little over an hour to maybe an hour and a half. Or if you've got a surefire hit on your hands, it could run by itself, at a slightly reduced ticket price, delighting theater owners as new crowds fill the auditorium every hour or so.

If audiences don't care for one of the shorts, Hollywood executives don't have to commit seppuku over the prospect of losing money on an additional two forty-minute installments that no one wants to see -- those future installments will be bundled in with other movies, providing something of a captive audience, which might just like the second or third chapter better than the first, and decide to go ahead and buy the eventual DVD containing all of the installments. In that way, the format could even help "problem" films -- say, the recent Clive Owen/Jennifer Aniston vehicle Derailed -- grow an audience over time.

This format seems a natural for the ongoing glut of superhero and other comic-based movies, from X-Men to Hellboy. But spy thrillers could work as well (that's one way to promote -- and minimize the potential risk of -- the next James Bond film), as could any number of genres. Yes, studios would have to figure out a way to determine how much of a moviegoer's ticket price goes to which film, but I'm sure they're up to the task.

Bringing back movie serials could be a way to energize the moviegoing experience, offering something worth leaving the house (and Blockbuster and Netflix) for. At least, it's worth a shot. At this point, what do we have to lose?

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Archived Editorials
December 03, 2006: Happy Feet
November 22, 2006: Half Decade Anniversary
October 07, 2006: Jessica Simpson
September 30, 2006: New Orleans and SNL
June 2, 2006: Dixie Chicks
May 7, 2006: Are Yahu Serious?
February 16, 2006: Bill O'Reilly & Brokeback Mountain
February 12, 2006: Totally '80s (Grammys)
January 31, 2006: Freyed Oprah
November 27, 2005: To Be Continued... (Bringing back movie serials)
November 21, 2005: Fourth Birthday
November 05, 2005: TV Remakes
August 13, 2005: Ten Commandments of Rock
July 05, 2005: Live 8
May 05, 2005: Term Limits (for Rock Stars)
April 29, 2005: Pearl Jam Redux
January 26, 2005: Oscar Grouching
October 31, 2004: Three More Years!
September 27, 2004: Cleaning Out My Closet
August 25, 2004: Shaking Through Mailbag
June 23, 2004: Summer Reading List
June 11, 2004: World Without Heroes (Bill Murray and Garfield)
April 23, 2004: Sold Out (Bob Dylan, Victoria's Secret, & Iraq)
April 08, 2004: The Day the Music Died (Kurt Cobain)
Mar. 17, 2004: Copping Out
Feb. 27, 2004: The Passion of Howard Stern
Jan. 30, 2004: Sex and the City
Nov. 17, 2003: California Über Alles
Nov. 7, 2003: Not-So-Terrible Twos
Sept. 19, 2003: Magic & Loss (Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon)
Aug. 17, 2003: Those '70s Shows
May 27, 2003: Patriot Games (Darryl Worley)
May 24, 2003: American Idol
Mar. 23, 2003: Non-cents-ical (Dixie Chicks-50 Cent)
Feb. 8, 2003: Where's the Love? (Pearl Jam)
Jan. 1, 2003: High Resolutions
Dec. 16, 2002: All I Want for Christmas
Nov. 27, 2002: Things to be Thankful For
Nov. 8, 2002: Near Wild Heaven (Nirvana)
Oct. 21, 2002: Happy Birthday to Us
Sept. 11, 2002: The Little Things
Aug. 20, 2002: King for a Day
July 9, 2002: Bill of Rights
Apr. 18, 2002: Celebrity Skim
Apr. 15, 2002: We Will Never Lie To You
Jan. 6, 2002: Something to Believe In
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