Thursday, September 29, 2011

THE PROBLEM WITH SEQUELS

According to the movie website Den of Geek (denofgeek.com) there are at least 95 sequels to existing movie franchises in some form of pre-production or production right now. Wow. Are there really that many properties out there that were so successful that they warrant sequels? Are there really people clamoring for CLOVERFIELD 2? CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK 3? DIE HARD 5 and 6? Apparently the studio executives think so. But more importantly, are they really necessary?
It seems Detective John McClane has nine lives as a 5th and 6th sequel to DIE HARD are in the works.
In my last post I pondered whether TV had eclipsed movies in terms of creativity and excellence. My opinion was that it had. Some of the shows you can find on HBO, Showtime, AMC and FX, and even the main four networks, are eminently smarter and more engaging than most big screen fare. And when I heard that Hollywood is making almost a hundred sequels it confirmed that movies have lost a lot of their mojo. If movie studios truly believe retreads and reboots are the surest path to profit, so be it, but it is not the surest path to making movies that matter.

Many movies lend themselves to sequels. The James Bond franchise is about to lens its 23rd entry. The crew of the Enterprise has kept audiences enthralled for over 40 years. And comic book movies, despite diminishing returns these days, have many new chapters to tell as their long print runs have proven. But most sequels have two big problems. First and foremost, their scripts are lazy, content to tread the same ground as before with precious little news added to the narrative. And two, sequels are usually overproduced and bloated because studios feel the need to make everything bigger and more extravagant. (Look! The new SHERLOCK HOLMES sequel has half a dozen more explosions and the girl with the dragon tattoo!)
The sequel to THE HANGOVER gave audiences too much of a sense of deja vu.

The laziness is the worst part. Too many sequels feel that all they have to do is follow the formula that made the original so successful and everyone will be happy. How wrong that thinking is. One need look no further than this past summer’s sequel to THE HANGOVER. It was so ridiculously slavish in following the first film’s plot points and gags that it felt more like a Xerox copy than a second chapter. Yes, it made money, but that’s because everyone wanted to see it. The audience scores, as well as the reviews, were dreadful. At least the filmmakers have promised to shake up the formula for the inevitable third one coming down the pike.
2012's SPIDER-MAN will tell the same origins story that the first Spidey movie told less than a decade ago.

Some sequels think they’re covering new territory by rebooting the franchise. This can make for a successful outing like X-MEN: FIRST CLASS that did tell its origin story with a younger cast, a unique Sixties time period, and a host of new mutants in its cast. But what are we to make of the upcoming reboot of SPIDER-MAN occurring less than a decade after the first film? Do we really need to see that origins story all over again? How many ways can you show Peter Parker getting bit by a radioactive spider? And I love what Chris Nolan has done with his BATMAN sequels but another Batman entry with Catwoman in it? Really? Even with an actress as comely as Anne Hathaway playing her, the Selina Kyle storyline may have been exhausted already by the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry.  
It remains to be seen if the third big screen outing of Catwoman is sublime or ridiculous.

Then there are those sequels in the plans that are just plain head scratchers. Do we really need a third visit with stoned slackers BILL & TED a full twenty years after their last sequel? And what audience out there is demanding BEVERLY HILLS COP 4? Maybe if Eddie Murphy’s cop shook up the formula by traveling to England or Japan, but another go-round in Beverly Hills?  Yawn. Maybe the studio heads think the first GHOST RIDER was so wretched that a sequel could almost serve as a proper remake, but I doubt their intentions are noble.
Eddie Murphy's Axel Foley character will soon be seen in another sequel, still stuck in Beverly Hills.

Studios will tell you that sequels are so prevalent because they come with a built-in audience. They've already bought into the franchise. That may be true, but look at the actual marketing costs and you'll see that studios hedge their bets. They spend a ton on advertising. A tent pole sequel like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END cost over 300 million and its marketing costs were in excess of 150 million. That's 450 million spent before the film even opened.

Still, when I see a sequel, I am always hopeful that the film will aspire to follow the example of superior seconds like those of TOY STORY or the subsequent BOURNE features. But too often the sequels I see feel more like brokered deals, not entertainment. A fresh script becomes an afterthought as long as you can get the original cast back in the same room. But then you see what efforts like GHOSTBUSTERS 2 or AMERICAN PIE 3 and 4 are. Such sequels discourage audiences and make them think less fondly of their original source material. I love THE GODFATHER and THE GODFATHER PART II as much as the next guy, but the whole franchise is now tainted by its lame third effort. (Frankly, Michael Corleone's story was over after the second film. By the third outing, he became a crusty curmudgeon that is best forgotten.)
THE GODFATHER PART 3 just couldn't live up to the first two chapters in the saga.
I am always encouraged when I see a new film come out that is completely original. New in its story, new in its characters, something that I haven’t seen before. I’d rather see a MIDNIGHT IN PARIS or BEGINNERS any day of the week than another expensive, star-studded, CGI-driven sequel that really isn’t moving the story or the world of film forward in any meaningful way. And guess what? Both MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and BEGINNERS were hugely profitable. They cost a fraction of what most movies cost and made back their investment five-fold. If only Hollywood would use 200 million dollars to make 20 films that cost 10 million each rather than blowing that kind of cash on one dud like THE GREEN LANTERN we’d all be happier. And the industry could hold its head high both at the bank and at awards shows.
The story of Giselle made for the fun and frothy ENCHANTED but hardly warrants a sequel.

Perhaps there is a way to make a sequel like those planned for ENCHANTED, EASTERN PROMISES, and BAD SANTA, but I will believe it when I see it. (If I see them.) But I’d have preferred that Hollywood left well enough alone. Some stories don’t need sequels, even if there are millions to be made.

Guess that’s why they call it show business instead of show art. Me? I just call it sad.

3 comments:

  1. Returning to the 70’s, what are your thoughts on THE FRENCH CONNECTION II? I’ve only seen the iconic first one, and have read a variety of opinions on the sequel, more positive than negative. The best praise being reserved for the continued unorthodox performance of Gene Hackman himself, and a terribly suspenseful ending. The New York fish out of water in France idea is sometimes criticized as an odd plot device, but I have to give the filmmakers credit for trying something new to shake things up. That takes more artistic risk than, as you say, yet another go-round in Beverly Hills for Axel Foley.

    The film won a few decent awards, just nothing from the Academy the second time around. And at least Popeye Doyle had the sense not to wear out his welcome with an unnecessary three-quel.

    So is it worth a view in your opinion? I HAVE to believe that looking back to the second chapter of a classic old movie such as this has got to be more gratifying than the current copycat sequels you describe, whose blatant purpose is just to milk the cash. (Please Woody, no MIDNIGHT IN MANHATTAN.)

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  2. Ah Fan, you picked a very good sequel! And a somewhat forgotten one. In the FRENCH CONNECTION II, Popeye Doyle chases the bad guys back to France so it was a natural extension of the story. It was a taut thriller and contains a great follow-up performance by Gene Hackman to his Academy Award winning role.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ah Fan, you picked a very good sequel! And a somewhat forgotten one. In the FRENCH CONNECTION II, Popeye Doyle chases the bad guys back to France so it was a natural extension of the story. It was a taut thriller and contains a great follow-up performance by Gene Hackman to his Academy Award winning role.

    ReplyDelete