Monday, March 21, 2011


Read the original before you read the sequel: Hollywrong

Hollywrong Strikes Back...with a Vengeance.

For the life of me I cannot come to terms with my feelings, or understanding of sequels. On one hand they can be very engaging, insightful and entertaining. On the other hand they can be boring, wasteful and damaging. For the past couple of days I have been struggling to come to an accurate conclusion on the matter, but every time I get going in one direction a voice calls me back and reminds me of something which counters the other side. My original understanding was that sequels were a contemporary capitalization on blockbuster films that rose to prominence in the 1970s. That theory was abandoned when I realized that I was overlooking some crucial cinematic film series such as James Bond and Planet of the Apes, both of which began in the 1960s. Still, my ideas were not entirely unfounded, as sequels did become more common during and certainly after the 1970s.

Planet of the Apes series
(1968 - 1973)
In a way sequels have always been a part of the narrative structure. Some stories are just too big to tell in one sitting. Take Lord of the Rings for example, you can’t even watch the movies in one sitting, forget about reading the books. Sometimes sequels come about because the characters lend themselves to alternative plots, like Sherlock Holmes, or the aforementioned James Bond. Superheroes are another example whose tale tends to last more than one issue, sometimes even spinning off into multiple series. But all of these examples derive from source material that was conceived and written by an individual, for the most part. There is an inherent consistency to the quality, voice, and character, not to mention credibility of originality. These stories weren’t manufactured to put asses in the seats, they were written to entertain and inspire. So where do you draw the line?

As the summer movie season approaches so does the blitzkrieg of blockbuster sequels, the uncontestable proof that Hollywood is running out of ideas, now, more than ever. Many of these films are advertised years in advance, depending on the popularity of its predecessors. I am personally surprised there is any water left in some of these wells. Although that would account for the steady slew of mucky movies being produced as studios scrape the bottom for anything with an ounce of similarity between their project and the original.

The logic is actually pretty sound, from a business point of view. It is always easier to make a sequel to a successful film than to create something from scratch. First of all, it is cheaper any way you slice it. Sometimes actors and crew will sign on for a multiple picture deal, which is cheaper than one at a time. In most cases the trial and error of the production has been done and they know what is going to work and what isn’t the second time around. Sometimes it’s even as simple as paying a small licensing fee for the use of a title that wasn’t a blockbuster, but found some form of cult related success. Just think of all the direct-to-video B-movies you’ve seen on late night cable. Brett Easton Ellis never wrote a sequel to American Psycho (1990), but you can watch it on USA up all night.

Aside from sequels being cheaper to produce there is also less risk and a greater financial return. Piggybacking off the success of a popular title, or character is a surefire way to make a return on an investment. Sheeple won’t know any better until after they have seen it and by then the receipts will have been counted. It is statistically proven that a sequel to a popular title will out perform an original film of superior quality and production at the box-office. So the question becomes, is Hollywood in the business of making movies that entertain or make money, and which one do you want to go see?

Killing time between sequels and reboots.
The faults with this line of logic are: 1) popularity doesn’t equal sustainability. Shrek (2001) was great fun. Shrek 2 (2004) was enjoyable. Shrek the 3rd (2006) was pushing it. I haven’t met anyone that’s seen Shrek Goes Fourth (2010), but that didn’t stop them from spinning off into Puss in Boots (2011). Which leads me to number 2) too many sequels, which can also be rushed and unplanned, will ruin a good thing. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is a gem in the modern horror crown, as is the original Halloween (1978), but ten sequels later and Hollywood is pushing the reboot button like it’s a video game that will just start up successfully for a new generation of players. Either that or they let it die on the vine like the original Superman series. Honestly, what the fuck was Richard Pryor and Lex Luthor’s atomic man doing there? They should have brought in Brainiac, or Lobo, or anyone of Superman’s rogues gallery, which is virtually unknown to the general public, aside from Lex Luthor and General Zod. But that’s an argument for another time. But it does lead me to 3) there are libraries and book stores filled with books, and stories, and history, and plays that would make great films instead of the same old thing.

"Meesa give you diarrhea
for your mind, body & soul.
In a lot of ways sequels are like leftovers. Sometimes they can be very good and enjoyable, but most of the time they are too dry, or slimy, and overdone. In that regard, Hollywood is like one big entertainment cafeteria that is constantly recycling its product in an effort to be cost effective at the expense of the consumers. That sausage you had Monday for breakfast becomes the burger you will have Wednesday for lunch, which will become the meatloaf you have for dinner on Friday. The same approach applies to story and characters in film. The comedy is that we all still indulge in this questionable buffet, myself included. Whether it is out of curiosity, anticipation, or hope, sequels have an alluring appeal.

A good rule would be to use the literary source material as an example. Simply avoid any sequels that don’t include principle creative talent from the original. Of course that would mean sticking around to read the credits, and honestly how many of you really do that?


Now that you've read the sequel, read the original: Hollywrong

1 comment: