C'Mon Hollywood: Back-to-Back Sequelitis

This weekend, after hearing so much about the 25th anniversary of BACK TO THE FUTURE, I was feeling a little nostalgic for old Marty McFLy and Doc Brown, so I decided to re-watch the entire trilogy. I absolutely adore the first film in the series, which I tend to re-watch about once every two years. As for the sequels, I hadn’t seen them since the DVDs came out in 2003, and before that, not since their original release.

The reason for this is that, even as a child (I was seven when BACK TO THE FUTURE 2 hit theaters), I was never all that keen on the sequels. Re-watching them again, I realized that both 2 and 3 are actually pretty darn good films (3 comes close to being great), but neither really holds a candle to the first film.

Before one blames this on the lack of Huey Lewis, I’d wager that the problem with 2 and 3 is that they were shot back to back, and released a mere six months apart. Back in 89/90, this was a revolutionary idea, only previously tried by exploitation filmmakers like when Cannon shot two Alan Quartermain adventures, KING SOLOMON’S MINES, and ALAN QUARTERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD this way, after it was assumed the first film would be a hit (it wasn’t). However, even that had separate directors and units. Unlike those, the BTTF sequels were both huge-budget A-flicks, and both were directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also did the first film.

While nowadays both PART 2, and PART 3 are considered good films, back in the day both were seen as underwhelming, and both (particularly PART 3) underperformed a tad at the box office, at least compared to the mammothly successful first film. I think the problem is that by shooting both sequels back-to-back, they both felt like halves of one film, and this made them underwhelming unless viewed together.

Eventually, this simultaneous sequel-making made a big comeback, with recent years seeing THE MATRIX RELOADED, and REVOLUTIONS being shot this way, as was PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST, and AT WORLD’S END. THE MATRIX sequels were all-out disasters, at least as far as critical and fan reaction can be judged, and I’d wager that most fans would admit neither PIRATES sequel measured up to the original film. The big problem was that the sequels for both franchises felt bloated, and they stretched boring stories over two films, while the premises probably weren’t strong enough for one film, much less two.

This brings me to the reason I wrote this column: the announcement of AVATAR 2, and 3 being shot simultaneously. While James Cameron has stated he won’t make AVATAR 3 at the same time as AVATAR 2 unless he’s able to come up with enough material to justify a third film, I have no doubt that 2 and 3 will be shot back to back. I understand why studios like this method, as it helps keep costs under control, and rather than wait three years between installments, they can put out a sequel a mere six months after the second film. However, I’m not convinced this method works, as it robs the sequels of any kind of individuality from each other installment. Also, in the event that the second film sucks, we’ll already have a third film shot in the same way (and presumably containing the same flaws) as the second film, making it impossible for the filmmakers to re-think the franchise between installments.

Of course, there are exceptions, as all-three LORD OF THE RINGS films were shot back-to-back, and they worked beautifully. That said, they were literary adaptations, and each film was based on a novel of their own- making up more than enough material for three films. I also think the HARRY POTTERS will be effective divided up this way, but once again, they’re based on existing material which would have to be diluted to squeeze it into one film.

As for AVATAR, I suppose will have to wait and see. I wasn’t as keen on the first film as seemingly the rest of the world was (I gave it a 7/10, and got loads of hate mail for it), but I still enjoyed it. Cameron’s track record suggests he won’t make a sequel unless he has a damn good reason other than financial gain (he already has billions anyway), so perhaps I should give him the benefit of the doubt. I’m just not sold on the whole back-to-back sequel ideas, and I’d rather see a PART 2, and a PART 3 of a franchise, rather than a PART 2, and 2.5.
Extra Tidbit: Any examples of good sequels that were shot back-to-back?
Source: JoBlo.com



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