Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Secret of Sequel Success

There’s a 1996 movie called Multiplicity where a man whose life is out-of-control busy decides to clone himself to get everything done. The problem is each clone is of continuing lesser quality than the preceding one.

That’s usually the case with sequels: Start with a good idea and then water it down into a bad movie. I loved the first Matrix, but the second and third installments were disappointments. I loved the original Pirates of the Caribbean and even liked the second installment, but the third wasn’t so hot.

However, there are success stories. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is wonderful. The Bourne trilogy left me hoping they make a fourth! And then there’s the Oceans’s 11 sequels. The first was great, the second blah, but thankfully the third came full circle with another fun movie.

So how does one sequel succeed while others fail? It’s all in the formula. When movies stick to the original formula, you’ll have success. Deviate from the formula, flop city. The Ocean’s movies are a good example. The first and third movies were breezy, fun flicks with lots of inside jokes and old movie references. The second installment tried to inject a serious subplot. Kiss of death – they tried to add an ingredient to a recipe that was fine as it was!

We recently saw National Treasure 2. It is just about as much fun as the original. The writers kept the basic plot and just changed locales and it worked.

[Warning: Minor spoilers ahead] When the movie opens and Ben and Abigail are broken up, red flags went up. “Oh no!” I thought. “They’re changing things!” But my fears were groundless. Ben and Abigail’s breakup just helped to recreate the playful tension present between the two characters in the original. And Riley was still comic relief.

This is where Pirates messed up. Will and Elizabeth are the central lovers, Capt. Jack is the comic relief (even if he is a hero in his own right). The sequels muddied the water in the second and didn’t clear it up properly in the third. Mess with the formula and you get uneven results.

The lesson: If it ain't broke, don’t fix it!

Which brings us to another upcoming sequel which has me a little nervous. I loved the Mummy movies. The first and second did a marvelous job of sticking to the formula and both were fun films. The upcoming third is changing things. Rachel Weisz, Oscar firmly in hand, declined the third installment. Then the writers changed locales and in doing so they have omitted two of the main characters from the old movies – heroic friend Ardeth Bay and archnemesis Imhotep. This gives me pause. Replacing an ingredient (Rachel Weisz) was challenge enough, but omitting two others as well could ruin the meal!

Maybe as the Writer’s Strike continues, these insights will occur to the idled scriptwriters and we’ll get more successful sequels in the future!

1 comment:

patrick said...

The first Pirates of the Caribbean was great, not too sure about the other two, tho the special effects were top notch of course. if they come out with a fourth will it maintain the quality of the first?