Play it again: the sequel strikes back
|March 28, 2012||Posted by Dan Peacock under entertainment|
Let’s take a quick look at the UK box office. At the time of writing, the five top grossing films were as follows: The Woman in Black, The Muppets, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Star Wars: Episode I (in 3D) and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.
Notice something? Only one of these, The Woman in Black, is an original film. The other four consist of a couple of sequels, garnished with a reboot and topped with a film that was actually released fourteen years ago in a mere two dimensions.
It’s something that worries me.
I’m not entirely against the concept of sequels, reboots and so on, but when you went to see Shrek for the first time you were probably amazed and laughed until you choked on a little bit of popcorn. When you went to see Shrek 2, though, you entered the cinema with a list of expectations that the sequel couldn’t possibly live up to. There are of course, a few exceptions out there – The Godfather: Part II, for example – but as a rule original films are far superior to their bastard children.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you might think, is another exception – but the second and third films technically don’t count as sequels. When a production team sits down and plans out an entire trilogy or series, as in the case of Lord of the Rings or the original Star Wars trilogy, the films are called instalments. Generally speaking, the quality stays roughly the same throughout the set, with each individual feature flowing into the next, and they generally contain a unifying story arc. However, when a stand-alone film is made and the production team decides, ”Hey, this film made some money, we should do another one,” it’s called a sequel and (again, generally speaking) it’s a pile of crap compared to the original. This is where abominations like Home Alone 4: Taking Back The House and Speed 2: Cruise Control come from.
Because of films like these, I’m instantly sceptical of anything with a colon in the title, or with Origins, Reloaded or anything of that ilk taped onto the end of the first film’s name. Take the Matrix trilogy as a shining example. The first film, The Matrix, was a spellbinding testament to what constitutes reality and our perceptions of the real world, and went in a completely different direction to anything cinema had ever done before. Nobody had ever seen a film like it. The second film was the same, but with less character development and originality in lieu of a big fight scene with some floppy-haired ghosts. My point is this: some films delve into issues, characters or indeed a world that is so vast or deep that it requires further viewing to explore and enjoy it fully. See: Aliens, Terminator 2 and The Empire Strikes Back. Then there are films which squeeze out the last drops of originality that the first film had and dilute it with a lacklustre plot. And then there are films which were blatantly just made off the back of the original to make money. See: Shrek: Forever After and Spider-Man III.
On that note, what about reboots? Sam Raimi’s partially acclaimed Spider-Man trilogy, which ran from 2002 to 2007, is already facing a rehash with Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man set for a July release. Is five years really enough for such a well-known franchise as Spider-Man to be completely rebooted?
Lots of other superhero franchises – Batman, The Hulk, and Superman – have also faced recent reboots, but Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films pretty much paved the way for the superhero movie surge of the mid-to-late noughties; a phenomenon that is still in full swing, with The Avengers and Man of Steel currently in production.
Think about it. The first of Raimi’s trilogy was released in 2002. The Amazing Spider-Man will be released later in 2012. That’s ten years. So, then, imagine if another director decided to remake The Lord of the Rings… last year. It’s the same time span. If a Matrix reboot had come out in 2009, or a Harry Potter reboot had come out last year (while the last film in the current series was still airing!), it would be the same. It doesn’t seem like long enough, does it? King Kong first came out in 1933 to critical acclaim, and was rebooted in 1976 – and notably in 2005 by Peter Jackson. That seems reasonable. But a mere five years just doesn’t seem right. It encourages comparisons between the old and the new, a battle which the reboot is almost certainly doomed to lose. Already, comments have sprung up on IMDB and other such sites to the effect of: “I liked the other Spider-Man films, this new one is different, and despite not having seen it yet I don’t like it!” If, however, Sam Raimi were to release Spider-Man IV instead then the moaners would probably hate that as well. Isn’t that a sign?
But what riles up irate critics even more than a tasteless reboot is a shoddily made prequel. And ‘awful’ and ‘prequel’ are, generally, considered synonymous with the Star Wars prequel trilogy: The Phantom Menace, The Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith (1999, 2002 and 2005 respectively). These are prime examples of films that never needed to be made.
In the original Star Wars, Alec Guinness says to Mark Hamill that “Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He was the best star pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior. And he was a good friend.” Apparently, George Lucas decided that this wasn’t enough backstory, and treated us to a three-film flashback where the young Darth Vader descended from angsty teen to homicidal maniac. Surely, this was just telling us what we already knew, albeit with more explosions and fights? This isn’t an attack specifically on the Star Wars prequels (well, maybe), but prequels in general. If you need an entire film to tell the backstory of the previous film – or, heaven forbid, an entire trilogy – perhaps you didn’t tell the story well enough in the first place?
Many people ask why the Star Wars prequels were made at all. The answer is of course simple, when you look at the figures – overall, the three films raked in $2.5bn. Billion. And in addition to the massive profit margin, it gave George Lucas something to do in the afternoons for a couple of years.
While we’re on a financial note, Transformers 3 made $1.1bn. Pirates of the Caribbean 2 made just over $1bn, as did Toy Story 3. Of the 11 films that have grossed over a billion dollars at the box office, eight are sequels (one’s actually a prequel, but let’s not nitpick). Bearing this in mind, it all starts to make sense.
This epitomises what is wrong with a capital-driven media industry. If a franchise is doing well, producers are loath to leave it be, and tend to keep squeezing every drop of milk from the cash cow’s udders until it turns sour. A lovely analogy, but a more practical way of looking at it is this: compare Fawlty Towers to The Simpsons. Fawlty Towers ran for a mere 12 episodes and is regarded as one of the greatest British shows of all time. The Simpsons was spellbindingly brilliant throughout its first decade, but despite a massive drop in critical acclaim around the turn of the millennium has since been churning out hundreds of episodes regardless. Quality beats quantity by any measure – apart from financially, which is what matters in the boardroom worlds of graphs and ratings. Film-making is, after all, a business, and what has the potential to make money will always get made.
And on that note, don’t get me started on the 3D re-release of Titanic in April. Just don’t.