Why I am left nursing a nasty Hangover after drinking in too many movie sequels?
There is a great scene in Ken Russell’s 1971 forgotten masterpiece The Devils. Oliver Reed as the whiskey priest Father Grandier has been tortured by a church sanctioned witch hunter. His legs crushed, his tongue pierced, he refuses to confess to heresy. His tormentor leans in one last time to question the priest’s commitment to his faith.
“Do you love the church?”
After a long pause the broken and battered holy man says, “Not today.”
I bring this up because I have just read that 2011, with a sum total of 27 movie sequels scheduled to hit theatres, is the biggest year yet for sequels and I feel like my cinematic church has been defiled.
This weekend alone offers up two part twos, the imaginatively titled The Hangover Part Two and Kung Fu Panda 2.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with movie sequels. Arguably The Godfather 2 outstrips the original, and The Bride of Frankenstein is unquestionably a better movie than its predecessor. So are Aliens, Toy Story 2 and Dawn of the Dead. It’s possible to make sequels that improve on the source, so why doesn’t Hollywood do it more often?
Because they don’t have to, that’s why. Audiences get the movies they deserve.
Need proof. Look no further than last week’s box office. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which I called a “monstrosity” in this space just seven days ago, soldiered on despite my scathing review to gross $90 million domestically, $260.4 million world wide.
Hollywood wouldn’t spend the time or effort to make these photocopy quality sequels if we didn’t line up to see them, so the next time you’re wondering why you haven’t had a truly great time at the movies recently, think back to the amount of movies you saw with a 2, 3 or 4 in the title and hang your head in shame.
I love going to the movies, sitting with strangers and getting wrapped up in the images flying through the air, but when I leave the theatre after watching—or should I say, enduring—PotC: On Stranger Tides and its ilk, I feel like Grandier. I love the movies, but catch me on the right day, ask me the question, and my answer would be, “Not today.”
I get paid to watch these things, what’s your excuse?
The official definition of prequel is: a work that supplements a previously completed one, and has an earlier time setting. The unofficial meaning reads like this: prequels, a way to prolong a failing movie franchise’s life.
On McSweenys.net recently Sarah Garb suggested titles for some lesser known Hollywood prequels. My favorites? Four Bachelorette Parties and a Friend in the Hospital, Borderline-Inappropriate Dancing and There Are Plenty of Mohicans. Of course those movies don’t exist but you get the idea.
OK, I’m being cynical. Not all prequels are money grabs. The Godfather 2 is one of the greatest movies, prequel, sequel or otherwise, ever made and my fingers are crossed for this weekend’s X-Men: First Class, set in 1963 when Charles Xavier starts up a school for humans with superhuman abilities.
Hopefully the new cast, featuring white hot Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence and Brit favorite James McAvoy will mutate the movie into something a little more interesting than the dull-as-its-star’s-retracting-bone-claws-after-a-manicure X-Men: Origins: Wolverine.
Of course prequels are nothing new. The 1949 drama Another Part of the Forest supplied the backstory to the 1939 hit The Little Foxes and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was a prequel to A Fistful of Dollars.
More recently George Lucas chose to make Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark—Raiders is set in South America, 1936, while Temple takes place in Shanghai, 1935—as he did not want to use Nazis as villains once again.
The Silence of the Lambs, the story of creepy cannibal Hannibal Lecter, inspired not one, but two prequels and a sequel. Prequel-wise it had its ups-and-downs.
First the good. Red Dragon featured an all star cast, including Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Harvey Keitel and, of course, Anthony Hopkins who helps law enforcement track down a mysterious serial killer called The Tooth Fairy.
Five years later they took one more kick at the cannibal can with Hannibal, Lecter’s origin story. Hopkins was lucky enough not to be included. Rhys Ifans and Gong Li weren’t.
Finally, there’s The Hobbit, a two-part film adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel and prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which has internet fanboys all abuzz. One thing is certain, with Peter Jackson at the helm it has to be better than Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. Right?