Saturday, May 7, 2011

2011: Sequels Galore!

(©SequelBuzz: Because One is Never Enough!)

I came across an interesting article back in January about all the movies slated to release this year, and as this jam-packed summer starts up I thought it relevant to talk about as a jumping off point from my previous discussions of originality to all future discussions we'll have throughout the summer in reviews. 2011 has the most movie sequel/prequel/whatevers of any year previous, with a grand total of 27. Definitely check out the article, but for a quick rundown there are: nine #2, five #3, five #4, five #5, two #7, and one #8 in the form of Deathly Hallows Part 2. To compare, 2003 was the previous record with 23 while 2010 had 19, so definitely a leap.

At face value, people have expected 2011 to be a big year like this for a while. Last year was, despite a few really big films (Avatar holdovers, Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, Inception), a bit slow for the box office, but always with the stipulation that we knew this year would be bigger. There are tons of superhero movies coming out this summer, the final Harry Potter film, Sherlock Holmes 2, a new Mission Impossible, The Adventures of TinTin, the list goes on and on and on. Even if few of them are mega-blockbusters like Avatar (though I suspect the final Potter film will finally hit a billion), the sheer number of movies pushing past $500 million adds up. At the same time, when hearing that there are so many story continuations coming out one has to ask why? what it means for Hollywood? the box office? Specifically, how original is Hollywood being by releasing so many "not new" stories (I recognize this statement is inaccurate).

There are a few sequels we can rule out of this dilemma: Potter, Twilight, and Transformers are all required continuations of previous story lines (save the Transformers hating for July 1st). Others are being made because the original was successful and not only the studio wants to capitalize but audiences do as well: Cars, Happy Feet, Kung Fu Panda, Sherlock Holmes, and Fast Five. Then there are the reboots or pseudo-reboots, as studios hope to reinvigorate otherwise dying franchises, a strategy I think is perfectly commendable as we always want to be entertained by what we knew we love: Rise of the Apes, X-Men (let's be honest, the third one disappointed and Wolverine was eh), Winnie the Pooh, The Muppets, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (slated, even though I haven't heard much about production).

And then there are those that remain, the ones that maybe shouldn't be there to begin with, yet are. Piranha 3DD, Alvin and Chipmunks 4, another Big Momma's House, another Madea movie, Paranormal Activity 3 (the new Saw!), Spy Kids 4 (yeah... I thought they grew up, too), Pirates 4, and Final Destination 5. A few of these are obvious, somewhat sad attempts to just pull box office numbers: Final Destination, Piranha, Alvin, Big Momma, Madea, but that still leaves Paranormal, Spy Kids, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Paranormal Activity by many standards does seem to be the new Saw, and there's nothing really dishonest with making so many of them. They are cheap and fast to make, releasing on a yearly basis Halloween weekend, and low budget means easy profit. Does it matter to audiences whether each new installment is wholly original in story? The first PA was a groundbreaking new way to tell a horror story as the Saw franchise drew to a close, but like Saw it runs the risk of turning into the same shocks every year, and as the saying goes, "Fool me once, twice, three times... six times in Saw's case..."

Spy Kids 4 falls more into the hopeful reboot categories, but then again what exactly are they wanting to reboot? I doubt the series will have the same enjoyment without Carmen and Judy, especially after it had already started to disappointment. Then again, Rob Rodriguez is usually pretty dependable... both with family films and awesome noir like Sin City, so who knows. Where it concerns this debate, though, Rodriguez wouldn't do a story if it wasn't original, and anything out of that man's mind is original by definition.


This brings us to one of the summer's biggest blockbusters and also most hopeful sequels, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Despite the trilogy ending with mixed reviews, it was nonetheless a very strong and successful trilogy, built on the shoulders of the amazing Jack Sparrow character, played by the ever-cool Johnny Depp. It's not surprising that Disney wouldn't want to let their billion dollar franchise disappear just because that trilogy ended. The main character was still alive and well, after all! This Pirates is a very different one, though, or at least appears to be. First, there's no Bloom or Knightly, though Depp and even Geoffrey Rush are back. The biggest change for me, however, is that Verbinski is not directing, opting instead for Rob Marshall. This reminds me a lot of deciding to make X-Men 3 without Bryan Singer, and we all know how that turned out (First Class looks promising not only because of director Matthew Vaughn but also because Singer is executive producing).

Maybe it'll be a really entertaining stand-a-lone just like it is intended to be; successful enough to spawn more stand-a-lones. Yet it runs the risk of turning into the next Saw just like Paranormal Activity (Final Destination is already churning out the same un-original story every time). You can only do zombie pirates and British prisoner chases so many times before not even Depp's personality can keep audience's attention. At the end of the day, there isn't anything inherently wrong with making a sequel or three-quel or n-quel to a franchise because the other ones were successful. For one, Hollywood is an industry made of studios that have to turn a profit, so they give us what we want. Hollywood doesn't churn out crap to us, we ask for it and they deliver. It's their job to deliver to us the type of stories we are willing to spend money to see on the big screen. There is a line, though, between continually replenishing audience's fascination with a franchise (Fast & Furious is doing a good job of this right now, I think) and expecting people to spend money on the same movie over and over when they already own it on Blu-Ray at home (Final Destination, Saw). Pirates can go either way, we'll just have to wait a few more weeks to find out.

In the meantime, be sure to check back Sundays for our latest review of summer movies. We'll be posting a lot of them, including for Pirates. Tomorrow we'll have our review up for Thor, and Monday will be our first video blog: a preview of everything releasing this May. The summer also means we'll all be ramping up production on The Death Of. Finally, as always, like us on Facebook and be sure to comment with thoughts.

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