Sequels: part 1

The sequel. Rarely as good as the original. That’s kind of the point of being original though, isn’t it? Being something that hasn’t been done or said before. Or at least not in exactly the same way.

Few sequels measure up to the first, even if the ideas in the sequel, are in theory at least, as innovative and fresh as the first. The truth of it is that the first event (be it a film, book, album, etc.) is often new, exciting and something a bit different. A fresh take on an idea that’s been done before can be thrilling with a different backdrop or different characters.

Take Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs have been done before but using genetics to recreate dinosaurs ourselves and then add in the idea of a theme park, and boom! An idea becomes exciting and exotic, often thrilling. Humans vs dinosaurs. “Life finds a way”. Take Jurassic Park 2. Same scene, humans have left them awhile but same premise: man recreates, dinosaurs live, man tries to exploit dinosaurs, dinosaurs eat man. Good but we’ve seen that somewhere before. It makes for a less riveting ride. By Jurassic Park 3, we’re left not really believing that this dinosaur vs man thing has got much going for it anymore.

I’m a fan of the great Jurassic franchise. I delight in dinosaurs walking. I freak out, in the way thriller-dinosaur movies intended, at a good old fashioned velociraptor or T-Rex chase. And I am a huge fan of the long-awaited Jurassic rebirth in Jurassic World. Same location, new characters and a few old faithfuls, with a subtly similar plotline. Then came Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom…and here is where it gets messy, kids. This is what happens when a sequel gets in a muddle. Dinosaurs or passing judgment on genetic engineering? It’s a fascinating subplot of which the Jurassic’s initial creator, Michael Crichton, could have been proud. And yet, in this film, it is so poorly dealt with that you could blink and miss it, and frankly the film is better if you did just that. Stick to a plan. One or the other, or weave it in more cleverly. Crichton was a skilful weaver. New characters weren’t explored enough for us to care about them, and the old characters were just safe pairs of hands to watch dashing around. It was all too easy this time to escape the most horrifying of genetic mishaps. And it all felt too rushed. It was a shame. This fourth sequel to the original film was not a patch on the first, nor a fragment of what it could have become in the right hands.

The list is long. Films that should not have been made and saved us all a couple of hours include: Jaws 2 (and all that followed), Back to the Future 2, Look Who’s Talking 2, Final Destination 2 (to eternity) – I won’t go on, you’ve got the idea.

There are always exceptions. Star Wars goes from strength to strength. Star Trek bounces happily from story to story. Doctor Who rivals Kirk and Spock for the variety of actors who have donned their souls. It seems sci-fi is well-endowed with practically perfect sequels.

Interestingly books seem to perform better than films as sequels. Perhaps a writer sets out to write more than one book with the characters before they begin, or they just know their story is not yet complete in a way that script writers do not. There is something more about unfinished business for characters in fiction novels. Lord of the Rings was the sequel to the beautifully evocative The Hobbit. Harry Potter and Narnia popped up all over the place, and let’s not get into The Famous Five (Five go to Smugglers Top was not even book number two in this 21 book series), The Hunger Games or Swallows and Amazons. Maybe our expectations are different as readers to movie goers. Books allow for events and characters to unfold slowly, in depth, with time for diversions and numerous sub-plots. Movies have, usually, only around 2.5 hours to entice, exhilarate and entertain with a crucially clear closing without opportunity for deep analysis.

What makes sequels a success? I’ll explore it more in part 2.

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