by Rob Stimpson
The separate announcements this week that a fourth instalment in the Paranormal Activity franchise is going into production, and that a remake of The Evil Dead is in the works has led to the confirmation of only one thing; cinema audiences are still very much in the midst of the age of remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels.
This isn’t to say that the occasional gem isn’t produced, of course. The previous decade bore witness to Memento, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, There Will Be Blood, Inception, Gladiator, Amelie, City Of God et al; it saw the continuing maturation of Pixar which, along with such modern classics as Wall-E and Up, also opted to make Toy Story 3. Yet, from start to finish, the Toy Story trilogy was fifteen years in production, and while it might be naïve to think all fifteen of those years were spent by those at Pixar slavishly sculpting these animate gems, it is a known fact that the original script for Toy Story 2 was thrown out because it was deemed unworthy of bearing the Pixar name. It isn’t always as easy to see the same pride in production on the screens with most other modern franchises, which seem to adopt the mantra of ‘strike while the iron’s lukewarm’. The haste and clamour for bigger profits is there for all to see in half baked storylines and clumsy, often ridiculous dialogue.
However, one of the best, and most popular films of the previous decade or so is The Dark Knight, which is in itself a sequel and part of a franchise reboot. This is the reason that The Dark Knight Rises is also one of the most highly anticipated films of 2012. Yet, these examples only seem to be the exceptions that prove the rule. Even the aforementioned Pixar saw fit to release Cars 2, when Cars was their poorest film to date. But in the cold, harsh reality of it all, the quality of the film is not what is important to the studios; it is the profit that can be made.
In no other cinematic period as it been more obvious that the primary concern of film studios is to make money. But you can hardly blame them, they are businesses after all, and in an age where they have to compete with internet piracy, online rental schemes and the rise in the quality of television, then any profit they can make is a grateful one. There is an argument, then, that in such troubled times the film studios are simply playing it safe, and sticking to formulas that they know will make them guaranteed money. However, the counter-argument is that for an apparently creative industry, film studios have become incredibly lazy with their output, with Hollywood being the main culprit.
For example, there is no artistic or aesthetic argument to be made for the release of Sex And The City 2. It is a terrible film. Most successful television shows seem deserving of a big screen release, at least, so you can explain the existence of Sex And The City. But a sequel? A sequel so bad that it looked as though it might actually unite the world in agreement for the first time in the history of mankind? Quite simply, it was made because the original film made a bundle of cash, and it was incredibly likely that a follow up would do the same. This rule also applies to The Hangover Part II. The original film was a refreshing idea, consistently funny and was a nice change of pace from other conveyor belt comedies. But a sequel? With exactly the same storyline where Las Vegas was substituted for Bangkok, and funny jokes and set pieces were replaced with bad ones? Sure, why not, it will make a fortune. And it did, so congratulations to the studio on that one.
But then there are the ‘franchises.’ That word nobody seemed to attach to films until very recently; or until somebody gave a green light for seven Saw films, five The Fast And The Furious films (with TWO more already promised in the future), four Scream films, four Scary Movie films and five Final Destination films. Audiences are also abuzz about American Reunion, the fourth film in the American Pie franchise (not including the many ‘straight to DVD travesties released under the same banner). Questionable franchises aside, investment in dubious remakes seems to far outweigh the investment in new and original ideas. Just look at the release of Conan The Barbarian, Arthur, Footloose, Clash Of The Titans and A Nightmare On Elm Street in the last two years alone. It is little wonder that it is becoming more and more difficult for potential film makers to get an original script put into production with any great success.
There is, of course, an element of joy to revisit certain characters to see how things transpired when the curtains closed on a fantastic movie. Before Sunset, the sequel to Before Sunrise, was released nine years after the original. Its characters are older and wiser, downtrodden, even, yet it takes everything positive from its predecessor and creates another brilliant film; a film made for the love of the original story and characters, not just in the vain hope that it would become a cash cow. Looking even further back, films such as Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Aliens and The Empire Strikes Back prove that sequels can be exceptional films when produced with the correct intentions. Even the Bourne trilogy proves that Hollywood is still capable of making fantastic franchises, underlined by the much agreed opinion that not only was the final instalment ofBourne Ultimatum the best film in the trilogy, but also one of the best action films of recent years.
But then, of course, someone decided to start making a fourth instalment, Bourne Legacy, without Matt Damon; in fact, the character Jason Bourne isn’t even in the film at all. It doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, so let’s just wait and see on that one. After all, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was seen as a slightly risky franchise reboot, yet it was one of the better films of 2011, and will inevitably spawn a sequel or two. With this in mind, maybe the Superman reboot of Man Of Steel, or the Spiderman reboot of The Amazing Spiderman might come up trumps. And even if they don’t, they will probably make their respective studios a tidy sum of money, and with that money comes the hope of a bit of investment in the films that really matter.