I went to see The Hobbit recently, or rather, The Hobbit Part One: An Unexpected Journey, which takes much longer to type and is rather pointless when people know what you mean anyway. It was enjoyable enough as a rollicking little family fantasy adventure, and I left the cinema glowing from the short bursts of nostalgia it had delivered. And, of course, wondering when the next part was going to come out.
The Hobbit is going to be split into three movies. Even after watching the first one and acknowledging that it would have felt painful and rushed had they crammed the entire book into one film (as my writing buddy and Supplier of Fun Facts tells me, a completely unabridged feature film of the average 50 000 word novel would go for around six hours), I thought that inducing mitosis on the films was a bit ambitious.
But then I remembered that the film culture we have at current is one that expects three billion sequels for everything anyway.
It’s already been done, after all—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was split into two parts to fit in everything and appease the devoted fans, who were by that point so emotionally unstable that some admitted to bursting into tears at the appearance of the Warner Brothers logo. The series considered its rival (for reasons still unknown to me), the Twilight saga (…why are they even being compared? That is a rant for another day) followed suit and split its final epic (snort) instalment into two movies as well. It follows well that the Tolkien fan base, far more ancient and devout, should get the ante upped even moreso for their adaptation.
But seriously folks. I sat down and tried to think of a recently released movie that stood alone and didn’t have a sequel of some nature. I was really, really hard pressed. Help me out here. There were only a few that popped off the top of my head.
The ones that swing single are often dramas and art films, and romances both dramatic and comedic—because nobody cares what happens after the Happily Ever After. But with action movies, comedies, and let us not forget kids’ movies, it’s very rare that one is let by without being signed up for at least sixteen follow-ups.
Why are we so obsessed with turning everything into franchises these days? Can we not just accept a good story and leave it alone? The same thing goes for TV—the unspoken expectation is that they will go on forever, regardless of story, and only end when ratings drop. This is a vicious cycle, however, since push from executives or whoever to extend the show indefinitely can stretch out the story and make it go stale and boring, which will lead to a drop in ratings… think of the integrity it could have maintained had it just wrapped itself up when the writers felt it fitted!
Let me not be too much of a grouch about this whole affair, though: there have been good sequels and long-running series that haven’t dwindled into the pits of melodramatic mediocrity. They are, however, the exception and not the rule.
Let me use Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes as an example. The first movie was awesome. Retained the sharp intellectual wit as the original and the chemistry between the characters as well as being a not-too-complicated-without-being-stupid action flick. Then, spurred delightfully on by this, whoever was in charge decided to fling a second movie into the market. I think if was called Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Overconfident Sequel. And it was terrible.
It was full of fan service and cheesy one-liners and followed the formula of a basic globetrotting action adventure rather than mixing it with the intelligent favour as they did in the first movie, and they killed off Irene Adler. If you’re going to have a waif that dies within the first ten minutes to show how evil the bad guy is, don’t make it Irene freaking Adler. What characterisation? Who cares? She was just a romantic interest for Holmes (no she wasn’t their relationship is much more complex than sexual tension pleaaaaase why you do this) and simply got in the way of the hilarious bromance between him and Watson, which is what makes up the humour of the film. That and Stephen Fry naked.
But it didn’t matter, because they knew that, following the success and acclaim of the first movie, they’d hooked an audience already. With the revenue practically already in their pocket, why should they care about the quality of their product?
This is the issue that I have with the compulsive production of sequels. They are either made just for more money or because the fans want more, despite the integrity of the story at hand. And if they are awful, think of how much of a fly-kick to the gut that is for the studio and for the fans. Look at all those Disney sequels you didn’t know existed because they were straight-to-video quality. It’s a disappointment all around.
The argument could be that within certain genres, for example the surge of superhero movies and their line-up of planned sequels that reaches all the way to the moon, people don’t go in looking for a stellar quality film experience and just want a bit of enjoyment. Still, fluffy explosive escapism or not, people are still going to be disappointed if the movie they see is terrible. And yet mediocre sequels keep pumping towards our cinemas.
I dare not suggest that the movie business is running out of ideas, but perhaps I could venture towards the hypothesis that it is a little bit scared of new ideas? Perhaps the movie moguls feel safer making adaptations of pre-existing and popular texts, and following previously successful film stories. And if they are combined by making movie adaptations of multiple-book series, double points! I thought it was incredible that it was actually embarked upon to make every Harry Potter book into a movie, all seven of them—it seemed ludicrous. But, much like the horcruxes, where we thought there were going to be seven there were in fact eight, and now the idea itself is not so shocking. Heaps of trilogies and series are being movie-fied.
I often think, what about the actors roped into these things? Are they surprised or disgruntled when they are called up to star in endless sequels when they thought they were just going in for one? Are they expected to remain immortal and fresh-faced for the entire production, which can last for years and years if they’re filming three movies instead of one? Are they all bound into contracts these days anyway, locking them into the franchise until the end of time?
A bad sequel can ruin a good movie, and too many can clog up the cinema and shelves. Yet we just keep on making and consuming them, crappy or not. What really makes me marvel is when Movie 2 was not that great, and someone still goes ahead and makes a Movie 3. Hundreds of people work on movies, spanning countless different fields, over months and months of slaving away and millions of dollars. It seems a shame to waste that effort on something that’s “eh, it was alright for a sequel” at best. And it also perplexes me that out of all those thousands of people, no one ever raised the point that maybe Madagascar 9 wasn’t such a good idea.