Avatars of Greed

With the extended version of "Avatar" and splitting the "Harry Potter" finale and "The Hobbit" into two flicks each, is Hollywood trying to tell stories better – or pick our pockets?

The end of “Toy Story 3,” which we won’t give away, was brilliant and bittersweet – and not just because of the rush of emotions it elicited.

The final scene marked a perfect cap to the movie series – yet it also cleverly laid the groundwork for even more sequels.

Hollywood, of course, has never had a problem with beating a good thing to death, even at the risk of marring memories a great franchise.

The studio execs are going to new lengths these days to squeeze more movies out of source material – which makes it seem like they’re trying to squeeze more out of our wallets.

The wizards at Warner Bros. turned the final installment of the “Harry Potter” book series into two movies. Studio chief Alan Horn said last week he prodded author J.K. Rowling to pen just one more book: "I even had a title: 'Harry Potter and the Golden Years,' " Horn said. He was joking – we hope.

Guillermo Del Toro had to bow out of directing a planned two-part version of “The Hobbit” because of scheduling issues. Many fans are praying director Peter Jackson – who managed to jam J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in a mere three films – will helm the planned Bilbo Baggins double header, even if two flicks might be stretching things a bit for the title hobbit.

Meanwhile, “Avatar,” already the biggest moneymaker of its time, is headed back to theaters next month with eight minutes of never-before-seen footage. That seems like overkill for a movie that defied the odds to live up to years of hype, and already has set a record for sales of Blu-Ray DVDs – the place where you'd expect to find gimmicks like deleted scenes.

Director James Cameron says the “Avatar” re-release is aimed at folks who haven't seen the flick (which, after $2.7 billion in ticket sales worldwide, probably amounts to three people), and those clamoring for more time in Pandora.

More time – a chance to relive the magic of a great movie in a sequel or new cut – is what draws us back. But potential disappointment can sometimes diminish the memories of the earlier works.

Still, we’re hopeful the final two “Potter” movies will be as strong as the first six. Whoever makes “The Hobbit” duo will have “Lord of the Rings” to live up to – especially if Peter Jackson winds up competing against his own legend.

By rereleasing “Avatar” less than a year after its debut, Cameron is taking a gamble on alienating fans and possibly dampening interest in his planned sequel.

This month brought reports – later debunked – that plans have been solidified for a fifth “Indiana Jones” flick. We’ll confess to mixed emotions about any Indy return. The third film gave us a wonderful, riding-off-into-the-sunset ending. But you almost want to see a strong, new film to make up for the lackluster fourth installment, even knowing there's a chance we could be in for a cringe-fest.

There were conflicting reports this week on whether there will be a “Toy Story 4.” As tempting as it might be for the folks at Pixar to bring back Woody and the gang for more full-length adventures, we’re hoping they’ll leave us with that unforgettable ending – a scene that spoke to the enduring power of happy memories and the importance of moving on.

Anything else would mean they’re just toying with us.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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