Sunday, June 10, 2012

Don't leave us hanging... If you want us to see a sequel, you might want to *finish* the first film.

Corey Atad wrote a great 'wish I had gotten around to writing it first' piece on Friday.  It's about well, it's called "Prometheus; or Stop Trying to Set Up Sequels!".  I've whined about this in brief or in the context of something else from time to time, but the whole 'everything's a trilogy' mindset has been quite harmful to any number of pictures over the last decade.  When you go back and look at the films that spawned successful franchises, they generally began with mostly close-ended installments.  Star Wars stands on its own, as does The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Batman Begins (heck, over the last four years I've come to admire how The Dark Knight begins and finishes its Harvey Dent business within its own 152 minute running time).  Even the first Back to the Future ended its specific narrative before offering a comedic cliffhanger that didn't necessarily need to be revolved (the producers always say they sure as hell wouldn't have had a flying car at the epilogue if they knew they were going to have to do expensive FX for a flying car all throughout a sequel).  Even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone had a relatively self-contained story that didn't necessarily require a sequel to complete its narrative.

But these days there is a certain thinking that one must intentionally leave your story unresolved in order to justify a sequel, as opposed to merely making one successful film and hoping the audience wants more.  Personified by John Carter, Dark Shadows, and Prometheus this year, and films like Night Watch, Robin Hood, and The Golden Compass in years past (yes the latter is actually less cliffhanger-ish than the book), there is indeed a min-trend of intentionally leaving your primary story open-ended in the egocentric presumption that parts 2 and 3 are merely a good opening weekend away. Arguably the first explicit 'to be continued' wasn't even Lord of the Rings, but rather Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers back in November 1997.  I remember being genuinely shocked that the film ended without the primary conflict being resolved, even as the film still felt like a complete story for the main characters. But my favorite sequel tease remains the finale of Bryan Singer's X-Men. Even when I first saw the film back in July 2000, it struck me as almost craven how explicitly they were setting up a next installment.  The entire first film, for better or worse, had the feel of an expensive television pilot.  Yes the film tells a mostly complete story and yes it still mostly holds up, but the last two minutes never fail to make me chuckle.  I kind of wish they had been completely honest about what they were setting up.  In my version:

Magneto: "You know Charles, this plastic prison can't hold me.  I'll be out of here by summer 2002, possibly 2003."
Xavier: "And I will always be there, old friend.  At a theater near (as Patrick Stewart turns to the screen and points directly at the audience)... you."   CUE END MUSIC AND FADE TO BLACK


Simoncolumb said...

Lets be honest - blockbusters are made with the primary intention of making money and, if a blockbuster (which by definition, is popular) then its better to set up a sequel rather than repeat the story again. I prefer many recent sequels over the type of sequels in the 90's. The best comparison is if you look at the repeat-the-story sequel of MEN IN BLACK 2, whilst MEN IN BLACK 3 tries to make it all link - so we now watch the first film in a new way.

Mpollux said...

I agree with most of this article; however, having read the Heinlein book several times before having watched the movie, I think Starship Troopers resolves actually more issues than the novel. Heinlein is not setting up a sequel, but rather showing us just a "slice" from the life of a Mobile Infantry soldier. The war with the bugs is just the environment where his story develops, and is never wrapped up. About the movie sequels? The leastwe say about them, the best.

corysims said...

In Scott's Robin Hood's defense, it is self contained. I always took the last image as "...and you know the rest of the legend..." kind of ending, hence the reason it's my favorite of the Hood films and thus completes Scott's unofficial Cruscades Trilogy; Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Robin Hood.

Still, also read that article and it's dead on and one of the main reasons why I have a problem with Marvel Studios' way of doing things as opposed to how Nolan's doing his Bat Trilogy.

As much as I want a Snow White and the Huntsman sequel, it was rather refreshing that it ended and felt completely self contained with no set up for sequel. One and out. I hope for the same thing with the Amazing Spider-Man.

Bigzilla said...

I agree with your premise, and these setups annoy the piss out of me, too, but it's not a 'one size fits all' situation. The Lord of the Rings is one story, Fellowship of the Ring is not MEANT to be. You go into it understanding there will be two more, and the simple fact that they filmed all 3 at the same time justifies the open-endedness of the first film. I would argue the same for Harry Potter. You never expected that to be one movie. Same for Hunger Games, and I'm sure we could list a dozen more. But all of those examples are adaptations of books. However, yes, if there isn't a CERTAINTY a sequel is being made, writers and filmmakers should not be leaving these other films so wide open JUST IN CASE there's a sequel. Credit to THE AVENGERS for at least closing the book on this one series of Marvel films. Credit as well to James Cameron for not leaving Avatar wide open at the end.


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