by Rob Stimpson
The imminent release of The Dark Knight Rises will draw the final curtain down on Christopher Nolan’s bleak but transfixing take on the fables of Gotham. Both of the previous instalments in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, surmounted all expectations and solidified Batman as a gloriously resurrected film franchise, nearly erasing all memories of the inept Batman Forever and the woeful Batman And Robin, with the nipples and enlarged codpieces – nearly, but not quite. Expectations for The Dark Knight Rises are at such a level that disappointment seems almost inevitable on some level, but the hope is still firm that with this final instalment, we could be about to witness the final chapter in one of the greatest film trilogies.
The art of a great trilogy is now all but lost in modern cinema, with much blame apportioned to Hollywood’s gluttonous greed and impatient, profit-conscious money men. Such fine and cherished trilogies like the Indiana Jones and Die Hard trilogies have been tainted with the utterly unwanted, unmerited and unbearable additions of a fourth episode. As much as any self-respecting film fan would cherish the ability to erase Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and Die Hard 4.0 (Live Free Or Die Hard), they simply can’t be ignored, thus transforming trilogies into quadrilogies. As such then, the following are the current ‘Top Five Trilogies’.
Spoilers contained below.
5. The Godfather Trilogy
Yes, Part III, I know. But, actually, it wasn’t that bad. Admittedly, Sofia Coppola is a woeful actress playing an incredibly annoying character, neither of whom are even worthy of a Twilight film, and the natural sense of grandeur that pulsed through The Godfather and The Godfather Part II is sadly absent throughout. There is no sense that a masterpiece of the modern art form is playing itself out before your eyes, as is the case with the initial two films; but if that is one of the primary criticisms against Part III, then the vast majority of films ever released would fall to the same fate. It’s a fruitless task to defend the final film when it stands so small in the utterly gargantuan shadow cast across it by the first two instalments, but this is precisely why this trilogy must be included; The Godfatherand The Godfather Part II are two of the greatest films ever made, and as they make up two thirds of the trilogy, and the slightly below par The Godfather Part IIIis merely a weaker denouement, the trilogy still more than deserves its place.
4. The Original Star Wars Trilogy
First, let me explain. Whereas the Indiana Jones and Die Hard trilogies had a dead weight clunked onto their prestigious names, the more recent Star Wars films were created as a trilogy in their own right, so they stand alone as a supplemental trilogy, separate from the original films – thank the Lord!
Still, the original Star Wars trilogy has the ability to divide audiences like very few others. The films are worshipped and obeyed by hundreds of millions, if not billions, of fans around the world, but to others they are worthless, schoolboy, fantasy nonsense. Whether or not you possess the required suspension of disbelief to marvel at the Millennium Falcon, to be disgusted by the gangster-slug-monster-thing Jabba The Hutt or to take Chewbacca to your heart, the basic underlying points of the story are relatable to anyone who cares to dig beneath the surface. At its most basic level, it’s David vs. Goliath; rebels fighting a huge, ruthless empire for such basic rights as freedom and the right to defend their home are rousing themes, even when set in a galaxy far, far away.
All of this is not to mention the impact that the film has had on modern cinema, and on society itself. The films were pioneers in bringing huge imaginations to the big screen – just look back at the very opening of A New Hope and Darth Vader’s seemingly never ending spaceship flying overhead. Essentially, though, the trilogy is still cult; it’s cool. Everything from Darth Vader and his voice, to Han Solo, lightsabers, Bobba Fett, the Death Star, the John Williams score, Lando Calrissian, Jedi mind control and the greatest response to an ‘I love you’ ever recorded. It’s just Star Wars, and without it, The Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy would have had a hell of a lot of less material.
3. The Bourne Trilogy
Without this trilogy, it is arguable that Matt Damon’s cinematic legacy could have lain with a slow witted puppet from Team America. Thankfully, though, his three outings as the amnesiac super-spy Jason Bourne (or David Webb to his friends) brought renewed life and enthusiasm to a stagnant and dull action genre in much need of saviour, and made him the respected star that he is today.
The unravelling adventure that sees Bourne hunted by the particularly shady CIA programme Treadstone, the same initiative that made Bourne into the weapon that he is, is utterly enthralling, with each film in the trilogy surpassing its predecessor. The entire trilogy skips from country to country, from continent to continent, as Bourne fights tooth and nail to reclaim his freedom. With echoes of Frankenstein, Bourne is the monstrous creation that has, in the eyes of its creator, gone awry and needs to needs to eliminated; but all the creation truly craves is to be left alone and at peace.
The concluding part of the trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum, is simply one of the best action films ever made, barely pausing for breath for its duration in a flurry of espionage, intelligence and brutality. Such was the Bourne trilogy’s impact that its raw visual style helped to reinvigorate the most stagnant of film franchises – that of James Bond.
Perhaps most important of all for an action film, however intelligent, the hero of the piece is a badass of incalculable magnitude. Quite simply, Jason Bourne refuses to die, or is perhaps, indeed, indestructible. With a character that can use a hardback book, a pen, a magazine, vodka and a flashlight and an oscillating fan as weapons in his fight for freedom, coupled with a huge list of memorable set pieces, and mesmerising fight scenes, this trilogy is everything an action film, and an action trilogy, should be.
2. The Toy Story Trilogy
No, seriously. Think about it.
Toy Story was not only an animated trailblazer of a film, introducing the world to the genius of Pixar, but also a genuinely heartfelt and touching story. With its refreshing originality, it united all audience members, regardless of age as, quite simply, we have all loved toys at some point in our lives. For the younger viewer, it was just a relevant, current film, and a dazzling one at that. For the older generations it was a glorious blast of nostalgia that sent minds spinning back to old bedrooms and toy collections. It left everyone, with the exception of the soulless, with a smile on their face and a happy heart.
At the very least, Toy Story 2, which could have so easily been a cheap cash-in or a straight to video sequel, matches its predecessor in every respect. It has a grander scale, venturing even farther from Andy and the safety of home, and introduces new characters like Jessie, Bullseye, Stinky Pete and Emperor Zurg, all of whom mix with the original crop of characters with ease. More to the point, the film is genuinely hilarious, far exceeding most contemporary films confusingly labelled as ‘comedies’.
Finally, of course, came Toy Story 3, the jewel in the crown of the trilogy. As Andy prepares to leave for college, his faithful toys are once more sent on another adventure, this time to Sunnyside day care, where the film transforms into a genuine action/adventure piece as the toys plot their escape.
All three films deal heavily with rejection, and the sense of worthlessness that comes with ageing, but ultimately find redemption in the closeness and loving comfort of family and the closest of friends. But it is the final film, with Andy now grown up and leaving home, finally parting with the toys who have fought so hard to stay by his side regardless of how poorly he treated them, that really seals the deal. These three films are supremely written, with a plethora of deep characters that are fleshed out with incredible voice work by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, John Ratzenberger, et al. The only thing that seems to have been more enjoyable than making these films is the act of watching them.
1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
In Clerks II, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy is summarised as such: “all it was was a bunch of people walking; three movies of people walking to a ******* volcano.” Technically speaking, this is not inaccurate. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy is much maligned by many for the simple fact that not a lot seems to happen.
Such malignity, though, does not hold up under continued revisits to Middle Earth, for revisiting this trilogy reaps bountiful rewards. It is clear to see that this project was a labour of love for Peter Jackson as the sheer size and scale of the images on screen are awe inspiring. From the New Zealand landscapes used as the natural, stunning backdrops, to the CGI created environments used elsewhere, everything seems to fit together seamlessly. From the rather nauseatingly pure hobbits in their small and perfect little Shire at the trilogy’s onset, nothing is ever the same again; Frodo and Sam are plunged into a world of danger and are brought to the brink of murder, the shire is replaced with foreboding places filled with suspect and dangerous beings. It’s a complete fantasy world of orcs, elves, magic rings and secret kings, and every new setting, every new character, is as thrilling or beautiful as the rest.
Perhaps the breakout star of it all, though, was the portrayal of Gollum by Andy Serkis. A possessed, schizophrenic hobbit, his relationship with Frodo and Sam is truly compelling as everyone, literally everyone, even Frodo and Sam, know that Gollum will try to deceive them in order to get back his precious.
In actuality, there is rather a lot going on, maybe even too much. The storylines may border on excessive, helping the trilogy take up the majority of a day, but when they are all sewn together come the conclusion, it is an incredibly rewarding experience, offering a genuine sense of having completed a personal epic journey. Whereas most trilogies have more obvious weak links, you have to really pick this apart to be critical, and whereas other trilogies can match it for quality of content, they cannot match it for visual impact and sheer imagination of the creative mind.