Saturday, October 18, 2008

Editorial: The Evolution of Trilogies

We're young enough to remember when film trilogies were special. They used to be mega-events, inspiring the greatest anticipation among fans. There were only a select few series that were worthy of the trilogy, and that made those series all the more legendary to their fans and the film community. (Kids - don't watch the video below.)

The above clip is DEFINITELY NOT appropriate for children due to extreme language and sexual references.

Today, trilogies are being cast aside in favor of even more films to continue the series. It's just been confirmed that a writer has been hired for a fourth Bourne movie. What's the point of a trilogy if you're just going to continue it on past the end of the third movie anyway? Studios have no sense of history when it comes to these films - they see the quick buck to be made because the fan base is well established and could care less if they tarnish their franchises on the way to the bank. They don't realize that the more trilogies they release (and subsequently add on afterwards), the less special they become. Pretty soon, everything is going to be a trilogy.

Think about the legendary trilogies out there. The original Star Wars films, Back to the Future, The Dollars trilogy, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix - these all hold a special place in moviegoers hearts. Most of these films were released in a time where trilogies were the end-all-be-all of movie existence; the pinnacle of cinematic storytelling capabilities. The sense of completion that a trilogy could offer gave writers and directors the opportunity to build fantastic worlds and universes, ample time to build characters to legendary status, and they were rare enough to set apart from other movies of the times.

Not only are studios going past the prime number of 3 for today's series, they've been resurrecting series in order to add an unnecessary fourth film onto the end of an otherwise fine franchise. Let's take a look at some of the "fourth's" that have served to put a bitter taste in moviegoer's collective mouths.
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Way to effectively mar the reputation of one of film's most beloved characters.
  • The Sum of All Fears. Just not the same without Harrison Ford.
  • The Next Karate Kid. Nothing against Hillary Swank (other than she looks like a horse), but come on.
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. I've heard that Yetis play football in it.
  • The Star Wars Prequels. Let's take one of the coolest villains around and make him a whiny little schoolgirl while introducing needless characters that will never again be mentioned, instead of building a base for what we already know happens in the existing films. Should we make any mention of Han Solo, the coolest character in the first three movies? Absolutely not. Good meeting, guys - let's break for lunch.
These are just a few famous examples. What we're learning now is that even more of these are on the way, with no end in sight. Let's look at some upcoming sequel/prequels slated for release.
  • Pirates of the Carribean 4 and 5.
  • Spider-Man 4 and 5.
  • Bourne 4.
  • Beverly Hills Cop 4.
  • Austin Powers 4.
  • Scream 4.
  • Fast and Furious 4.
  • The Hobbit and another untitled film between The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring
I'm not saying that all fourth entries into a franchise are bad - take a look at Rambo and Live Free or Die Hard. But for films like the Bourne series, which I have said many times before was perfectly ended with The Bourne Ultimatum, there really isn't any need to bring those characters back. As a friend of mine said, "leave a little to the imagination." The audience doesn't need to have every last second of a character's existence revealed to us - part of the mystery and fun about it comes with not knowing. Another perfect example is the recently confirmed I Am Legend prequel - the first one held up great on its own. We don't need to know what happens to Robert Neville in between the events of the virus and the first movie. Does that mean I'm not going to see it? No, because it's a Will Smith movie. But is it necessary? I don't think so.

Since trilogies have become pretty much null and void now, why even get excited about them? The whole point is to tie everything together into a cohesive story, an epic tale that couldn't be told in one film. So when it's finally done and the final credits roll on the third film, the audience should feel a sense of completion. It's a good feeling to have, because you've gone on the complete journey with these characters and you know everything there is to know about their world and what they've done because you were right there with them the whole time. You know that they aren't coming back, but you're OK with that because they gave you one hell of a ride for three movies and you feel privilged to have gone on it with them. Now, we are being robbed of that feeling by the studios today with all of these add-on's and I think that's a shame. I understand why they do it, but I'm in favor of rebooting the series over an unnecessary addition - at least that way you can have a fresh take on previously existing characters instead of more of the same from the characters you've already seen. The upcoming Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins is a good example of meeting in the middle: the film takes place after the events of Terminator 3, but it starts its own three movie story arc featuring the same characters played by different actors.

With today's rapid fire availability and digital domination, people don't have time to watch the entire series anymore. By stretching the number of films out to four and five (and possibly farther), are the studios suggesting that 5 is the new 3? Are we supposed to be excited for the fifth movie in a series because we really want to see what's going to happen to those characters, or because the studios want us to get excited so we'll go see it in theaters? The reboot trend is a good way of cutting that stretch point in half; it allows for fans of one arc of the series some closure, and if they choose to watch the reinterpretation of it, then that's their perogative. It's a shame that we're being forced to see some of our favorite characters dragged back into theaters to uninteresting scripts, especially with sometimes 10 years in between films. Until next time...


Head Hero said...

Right on man! Couldn't agree with you more!
The only exception I can think if are the 8 Harry Potter movies that will be made.

Boze said...

I think more trilogies could be a good thing in some cases. Some great stories require more than 2 1/2 or 3 hours to tell (see LOTR trilogy). Obviously have a sucessful trilogy the studio is required to "blow it's proverbial load" in the first one so that the following can be profitable.

Ashley said...

cool new banner! I like it a lot!

derek reese said...

Man, if that new banner doesn't get you some high-class tail, I really don't know what will...

tee breezy said...

I have to say that the Hobbit is going to be a fine installment to the Tolkien-movie universe. These stories are MEANT to be told, and as long as they stay true to the book, they cannot do any wrong.

Further, the Star Wars prequels were excellent ideas in theory. Another story that must be told: Anakin Skywalker's internal battles and torture leaving him prey to the darkside. However, I cannot condone the actions of Lucas for FX-ing this story to its limit and THEN adding a storyline.

And I think I found a typo in your post:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Way to effectively "mar" the reputation of one of film's most beloved characters.

Mar = Rape