The Trouble with Sequels

By Paul Martin May 31st, 2001, in The Matrix Reloaded

The U-Wire has posted a story that was printed at Dartmouth College. It speaks on the good and bad things that film sequels do. There are some good parts, but you will just have to find them. Thanks to for posting this. (This isn’t the COMPLETE article, I omitted a few of the movies mentioned.)

The making of sequels is a risky business, more likely to fail than succeed, but one that Hollywood seems to adore. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the movies followed by sequels tend to be action, adventure, or horror movies, which are easily reproducible….

“The Matrix Reloaded,” directed and written by the Wachowski brother of the original “Matrix” (1999), will arrive next Christmas. One hopes that the sequel will not only match the amazing special effects, but also the intelligence of the plot that made the first movie so intriguing.

Of the three sequels coming out this summer, “Jurassic Park III” has the most potential. While the first “Jurassic Park” (1993) combined all the best elements of our childhood love of dinosaurs to the tune of a great soundtrack and good cast, the first sequel disappointed. Hopefully, with the return of Sam Neill as Dr. Grant, the third iteration will redeem the second.

The Star Wars series embodies both the best and worst of what sequels can be. While the first three movies are, in my opinion, the best of the epic adventure genre, the fourth is sadly incomparable. Perhaps this is due to the fact that “Episode I, The Phantom Menace” (1999), with all its glittery shallow special effects, came 16 years after “Episode VI, The Return of the Jedi” (1983).

“Star Wars: Episode II” is scheduled to come out next June, and will focus on the romance between Queen Amidala and the future Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker. Although the annoying Jar Jar Binks will still be a main character, the talented Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and new-comer Hayden Christensen (as Anakin) give one reason to hope.

Kevin Smith’s next film, “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” a road trip adventure starring a monkey, sounds like another hit for those of us who love the New Jersey film series. Smith’s ability to produce good sequels has passed the test with “Mallrats” (1995), which followed on the heels of his first cult success, “Clerks” (1994).

Smith’s latest film title is inspired by one of the greatest sequels ever made, George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back” (1980).

“The Mummy Returns” should be great if you’re looking for an action-packed thriller about the evil followers of Imhotep, pygmies and the armies of the undead. Like the first “Mummy” (1999), expect silliness, not depth.

…Among the worst of these insults to film lovers is the Jaws series. Like many sequel series, the first “Jaws” (1975) is a wonderfully suspenseful thriller, directed by Steven Spielberg. The later Jaws movies seem to have forgotten the “less is more” philosophy of the first Jaws, in which the presence of the shark is constantly hinted at and the academy award winning soundtrack is hauntingly simple.

Other great movies with terrible sequels include “Grease” (1978), “Look Who’s Talking” (1983), “Ghostbusters” (1984), “Lethal Weapon” (1987), “Batman” (1989), “Die Hard” (1988), “Major League” (1989), and “My Girl” (1991). In fact, almost all of the best movies I grew up watching, as a child of 80’s, ended up being imitated by weak knock-offs. Occasionally, in the case of The Godfather, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future, sequels can succeed at recapturing the essence of the original, and even add a new dimension to a beloved story.

“The Godfather II” (1974), written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is the only sequel to make it on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Movies of the Century list. This movie tells the story of a young Vito Corleone, future head of the Corleone crime family, and his son Michael Corleone in the 1950’s. “The Godfather II” is the only movie, before “Heat” (1995), that starred both Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro.

Of the hundred movies on the AFI list, ten have had sequels made of them. On this list is “Raiders of the Lost Arc” (1984), and “Rocky” (1976), two movies that have both good and bad sequels.

While “Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom” (1984) is an annoying comedy with so-so special effects, the third film in the series redeems the mediocre second. “The Last Crusade” (1989) rewards Indy lovers with a vision of his past, including Indy’s father, played wonderfully by Sean Connery.

One of my favorite sequels is “Back to the Future II,” which is arguably better than the original. The movie begins with the last scene of the first “Back to the Future” (1985), and unfolds an elaborate, hilarious and delightful plot from there. Unfortunately, “Back to the Future III” (1990) was amusing but nowhere near as good as the first two.

My favorite sequel is a rather obscure French film entitled, “Manon of the Spring” (1986), which completes the heartrendingly simply story begun in “Jean de Florette” (1986). These movies take place in Provence, Southern France, in the 1930’s and combine incredibly acting (Gerard Depardue plays the lead in “Jean de Florette”), convincing scenery, and a realistic plot, to examine human nature and the mystery of love.

The best sequels are those that do not merely bank on the success of the original, but rather explore new territory or complete a great story. Sequels that co-exist in the creator’s mind with the original, such as the Star Wars movies, are unique works of art that are necessarily better than sequels that rehash previously profitable themes. As long a sequel is created independent of the purpose of making money, which most are not, it has the potential to be a great movie.

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