Friday, October 15, 2010

Sequels: The Movie Murderer

If we’ve seen it once, we’ve seen it a thousand times. There is a fantastic movie that may have lived in cinematic history for all time, and then the sequels come into play, effectively crushing the sparkle. In the interest of fairness, there have been numerous occasions where the sequel topped the greatness of the first installment- the classic example of course being The Empire Strikes Back, not to mention the illustrious Dark Knight. But more often than not, sequels end up like the late Transformers 2, over-utilizing special effects and Megan Fox to compensate for gaping plot holes.

Consider the incomparable Jaws. Jaws practically invented the blockbuster, and despite slightly outdated special effects, the movie is still considered a great classic due to the visionary directing of Steven Spielberg and the extraordinarily iconic score by John Williams. With such paramount success, one wonders why Jaws parts 2 onwards did not meet with equal success- it was certainly not the absence of Richard Dreyfuss that sealed the doom of the sequels, but the presence of dolphins probably didn’t help. The fact is, a dorsal fin can only breach the surface so many times before we yawn and say “there it is again—that guy is a goner.” Eventually, the same old gimmick just doesn’t work anymore, and there are no more surprises. By the time Jaws the Revenge came along, the last hope was to indicate that the shark (or sharks, do we ever really know if it was one or several?) was on a vendetta specifically against the Brody family. Even with a plot twist like that and giving the shark Olympic jumping ability, the only real twist would have been if the shark had not died an impossibly explosive death for a change.

The death sentence for a great movie-turned-franchise is in overdoing the old formula. This exact factor is probably why The Matrix is part of the revolutionary movie cannon, while its sequels are desperately trying to be forgotten. The first movie took special effects to new heights, but between the countless imitators and rip-offs, those jazzy moments lost their sparkle very quickly, and it didn't matter anymore when the original makers came back to serve up seconds. It was already cold and moldy. 

Jurassic Park was another movie masterpiece that capitalized on the success of the first movie, and ran the story into the ground with two more movies. In all fairness, The Lost World and Jurassic Park III could have been worse, and they both had their moments of effective suspense, but failed to deliver the magic that made the original movie popular. Every rabbit that the Jurassic Park sequels managed to pull out of the hat were promptly chomped by the weak storyline and unoriginal stock characters. Every movie had an unlikely hero, a lucky-to-survive-anything female, a gun-toting macho man who always dies, and a kid or two starring alongside the T-rexes and raptors that featured prominently in every movie.

The best example of killing a good thing by overdoing it is the tragic Spiderman. Spiderman was one of the best comic book movies up to its time, and its sequel was equal or possibly greater to the first movie. With Spiderman 2, there was still room to work in the unforgettable Doc Ock, let Peter struggle with being Spiderman while trying to uphold his personal life, as well as develop character in all major players. So what happened when Spiderman 3 came along? It had potential with Sandman and Venom at the helm of conflict, but instead, Spiderman 3 became the ultimate overdone sequel. Trying to make Sandman into a sympathetic villain might have worked had we been given time to think about him. But between Sandman, Venom, Dark Spiderman (Emo Peter), and the newly turned Harry succeeding his father as the Green Goblin, there was far too much story and action and somehow not enough time to cultivate a real plot. In the end, all we wound up with was a very long mess of a web that felt like it was leaving a few strands hanging just in case anyone should care to spin a part 4. And by the way, there are such rumors.

While I'm not knocking all sequels nor suggesting that sequels never be made, when it comes to great action movies, sequels have become the equivalent to medicinal leeching: it seems like a good idea at the time but doesn't actually accomplish anything other than sapping the life out of the situation. Although it's understandable to try and prolong success, there is a certain kind of integrity in enjoying the moment of fame, and silently allowing it to come to pass as all good things eventually do. Of course, this is assuming that the purpose of the entire industry was actually about entertainment rather than making money. Since this world does not exist, the only thing to do is prepare for more grand sequel fiascoes.

Transformers 3 anyone?

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