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The Era of the Sequel - Part 1

by
August 19, 2006

Written by guest contributor Jason Kaleko

Part 1 of 2 | Business vs Art in Film: Irony and the Independents - Part 2

Take a moment to ask yourself this question: what movie are you looking forward to the most in 2007? Is it a sequel to a previous movie? More likely than not, it is. America's movie culture is falling to the wayside as truly original scripts are being discarded for surefire moneymaking strategies.

Big screen attendance over the last few years has slowly gotten worse due to a plethora of variables (not the least of which is America's love affair with the internet and alternate media sources) and to fight back against the declining numbers, Hollywood has been forced to produce movies that will be definite successes. And what's the best way to ensure Americans will lay down their hard-earned money for a big screen showing? Give them something they are already familiar with. It's that simple. And it doesn't even have to be a sequel.

Take Spider-Man, for instance. Not a sequel, but how many people didn't know who Mary Jane was before entering the theatre? Very few. And needless to say, the film grossed nearly $115 million in its opening weekend and to this day makes about $100,000 a week in DVD and merchandise sales.

Sure, there's always the occasional hit that comes out of nowhere. Take Pirates of the Caribbean (one, not two). Aside from being based on a theme-park ride, Pirates had a genuinely original script with great characters and incredible scenery, and holds a spot in millions of personal top ten lists across America. It did well enough: $46 mil in its opening weekend and $305 mil total to date. But unfortunately, movies like Pirates are few and far between. With the rise of comic-based films and Hollywood's obsession with cashing in on sequels to anything that even remotely hits (take 2007's The Hills Have Eyes II), movies have become a parade of tired images revamped for the new millennium.

But who cares? Spider-Man was a great movie! Why does it matter the content of the films that are made as long as they are entertaining? The truth is that there's really nothing wrong with it. Movies are meant to entertain first and foremost. However, the domination of the sequel in modern society is a potential draw from true artistic classics. Check out AFI's Top 100, a list that doesn't take into account any movies past the year 2000. How many of these films are sequels? Just one - The Godfather: Part 2. Classics are made from great, original works in an arena where attempting to achieve the maximum potential financial gain does not adulterate the quality and vision of the film.

A hundred years from now, what will be the next Godfather? Or the next Casablanca? Who is going to create an entirely new world like that of Star Wars? Who is going to outshine the legend of Orson Welles if every work is being recut by money-hungry studio execs? Something has been lost under the avalanche of rehashed ideas in the Hollywood system. Is it creativity? Originality? The danger of the avant-garde? It's hard to say, but somewhere in the system, something has been lost, and artistic freedom muffled.

In all of this, there is a beacon of hope that might be changing the entire world of film: the independents. Independent film has been the last refuge of the art on the screen, and as more and more great independent films are being picked up and distributed by production companies, hopefully Americans will understand the incredible nature of a truly new experience. Maybe Hollywood's obsession with cashing in is just the first symptom of its demise as independent films slowly creep in and change the industry completely.

Check back next weekend for Part 2!

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  • PlainSpoken
    Nostalgia is nice but it's no substitute for critical thought. Everyone remembers the cream but forgets the dross. As time goes by the cream keeps getting elevated to AllStar status. Of course it was better in the past, because you don't remember -- or want to -- the crap! Hollywood is going through a phase, just like it did in the mid sixties, and then it will move on. This manufacturing by committee will lose favour as the big blockbusters fail and the artists take back the asylum if only temporarily. And H'wood will never learn. Just enjoy the cream as it comes by and ignore the dross.
  • Ben
    I have quite a few problems with your brief article. Firstly, "The Era of the Sequel" is not a new era at all. Sequels, better known as serials, were the most popular forms of film entertainment during the early days of cinema. In fact, serials essentially drove the star system and built Hollywood into what it is today. You can thank the power of "serial" entertainment and its effect on human psychology for that, not the originality-hating studio executives. I do agree that money is the driving force behind the studio system, however. Since serials were so successful, its no wonder why Hollywood implemented that model for many years; that is, until stars become too expensive, TV emerged, and the system crumbled. At that point, you see the "independent films" of the past cropping up: the film noirs. This money-maker shifted Hollywood's interest towards a new lucrative mode of filmmaking. I also agree with you that money is the driving force behind your so-called "Era of the Sequel." It's no secret that films cost more to make (and to market) today than they did 70 years ago, so is it really a surprise that Hollywood is returning to the serial format? If you can make double the money for one dose of story, why wouldn't you? My second problem with your article is that you think the "independents" are going to save us from Hollywood trash. I disagree. Hollywood has managed to swallow up "independent filmmaking" and render it a genre in and of itself. I think that Little Miss Sunshine stands as a gleaming example of this practice: find a film that has the stock characters of "indie-cinema" (you can figure them out yourself,they stand out pretty clearly), buy it for cheap (it only cost 8 mil. to make anyways), and pump it with marketing funds. As soon as "independent" cinema (I can't bring myself to say "independent" without quotes anymore) becomes the prevalent mode of filmmaking (as you hope it to), you'll soon be whining about the monotony of that "era" as well. I harbor as much angst as you do regarding the state of cinema, but I neither believe that "The Era of the Sequel" is the problem, nor that "independent" filmmaking is the solution.
  • To answer the question at the beginning of the post: Transformers. However that does come up later in the post due to the fact that it isn't a new idea, or original property. I am more of a gaming enthusiast than I am a film enthusiast, but they both hold a certain place in my heart, and both for very different reasons. Anyway, the point is, the same plauge happens in both mediums. While orignal games do pop up now and then, unless the game is an already established franchise, chances of it actually succedding are very slim. Some of the best games last generation most people never even heard of, let alone play. The problem with Hollywood and more original scripts and films is the risk. That was one of the major advantages of Snakes on a Plane. They took something totally off the wall and ran with it and (In my opnion at least) came out ahead. People don't like taking risk, the all mighty dollar rules it all...
  • Pingback: www.12screen.com » Commentary 2: The Sequel()

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