Monday, June 11, 2007

Movie sequels: mindless repetition or serialized storytelling?

I don't even know where today went. Way too busy to do a real post, so here are a couple of interesting links and a thought or two about them.

Every summer the movie critics dust off their keyboards, crack their knuckles, and get to typing about how sad it is that the summer schedule is full of sequels. It's their equivalent to Minnesotans' complaining about snow in March, even though there's always been snow in March in Minnesota since time began. This year, the first complainer I've heard about is Patrick Goldstein from the Los Angeles Times.

"Is there anyone besides me" he asks, "who is depressed by the news that Steven Spielberg, a great filmmaker with the clout to get any project he wants off the ground, is going off to make … Indiana Jones 4?" Actually, Patrick? Probably not. At least not anyone I want to hang out with.

He goes on to do the usual whining about how sequels are all about money and being "cozy and reassuring" versus good storytelling. He's way too general about the whole thing. Yeah, there are crappy sequels, but there are good, thoughtful ones too. And not just The Godfather Part II.

I'm more in line with David Bordwell and his friends who see movie sequels as just another manifestation of serialized storytelling. As one of the panelists, Jason Mittell, says, "Continuity of a narrative world is a core part of nearly every storytelling form, but the language of 'sequel' is applied predominantly to film. 'Series' seems a more respectable term, as it suggests an organic continuity rather than a reactive stance of 'Hey, let’s do that again!'" And I think that's the key. Does the sequel continue the story (even when, like in the Shrek movies, the first installment didn't exactly cry out for continuation) or just tell the same story over again (like in the Home Alone movies, for example)?


Siskoid said...

Of course, by that logic, the Indiana Jones films are sequels and not a series.

But the comment holds true. There are series and there are sequels, and either type can be successful or unsuccessful. Matrix Reloaded and Back to the Future II are unsuccessful attempts at series (rehabilitated by their part 3s). On the flipside, Last Crusade is a successful sequel even if the Indy films are barely in series (one could say that seeing Indy's youth constitutes continuing the story).

(Success, by the way, is a measure of storytelling quality and not finances.)

Of all the sequels/series announced, Indiana Jones 4 is probably the one that I'm least worried about. Rambo, FF, Die Hard... those hit bottom on their last try.

West said...

It sounds like this critic's real issue has to do with a perceived lack of new concepts and characters moreso than poor storytelling - unless one believes that using the same characters negates the writers' storytelling abilities.


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