Pirates and 26 other sequels this year: Are Hollywood execs ruining movies?
By one count, Americans will be served a record 27 movie sequels this year: Pirates of the Caribbean, Spy Kids, Cars 2, The Hangover Part II, Happy Feet 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, etc., etc. Have Hollywood moguls gone overboard on sequels?
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This year includes five fifth sequels (Fast Five; Final Destination 5; Puss in Boots; X-Men: First Class; Winnie the Pooh), two seventh sequels (The Muppets; Rise of the Apes), and the eighth Harry Potter movie (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two), itself a sequel.Skip to next paragraph
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The idea of a sequel is harmless. One Thin Man movie is not enough, nor one Tarzan, James Bond, Star Trek, or Star Wars. There may have been an excess of zeal with Francis, the Talking Mule. Some sequels improve on their predecessors, such as Spider-Man II and The Dark Knight. Others were possibly doomed, such as Sex and the City 2, because of its inexplicable decision to send the girls on holiday to Abu Dhabi. Those are Manhattan women.
The beat goes on. As the leadership of many studios is taken from creators and assigned to marketers, nothing is harder to get financed than an original idea, or easier than a retread. The urge to repeat success can be found even in the content of modern trailers, which often seem to be about the same upbeat film. Even The Beaver, with Mel Gibson battling mental illness, is made to look like a hopeful comedy with a cute stuffed animal.
Trailers also do their best to spoil secrets and sight gags for you. One executive told me: "We want them to feel like they're seeing the whole movie, except that it's longer." This model can also be found in the aisles of supermarkets, where you're offered a bite of cheese on a toothpick. After you eat it, you know everything there is to know about that cheese except what it would be like to eat a pound of it.
At Oscar time, the backstory of the nominees often seems to be the same: every studio in town turned them down. Some studio divisions have been forthright about their decision to stop making grown-up movies at all, focusing on superhero comic-book franchises, 3-D animation, and raunch romps. It doesn't really take a movie person to approve such films.
Complicating the situation is the increasing reliance by Hollywood on foreign markets, which are thought to be impatient with dialogue and hungry for action. That results in an irony: while European nations, for example, produce excellent films that play here in art theaters, we are represented over there by American films suggesting we are a nation of violent or moronic fanboys. I see nearly as many films about grown-ups from France alone as from mainline Hollywood studios. Our tradition of quality cinema is being abandoned.
Now the studios are in a lather to show new movies via video-on-demand within 60 days from their first theatrical release. Exhibitors have fired back by threatening to ban such films from their theaters. (This could improve the quality of the films at the average multiplex by depriving it of studio product.) If the suggested $30 price tag for a 60-day VOD is accepted, families may wait to see a new animated film at home in bright, cheerful 2-D rather than being charged a premium to see it in dim and annoying 3-D. They can make their own popcorn, which the theaters dread, because the studios take up to 90 percent of the opening-week box-office gross, and movie theaters literally make their money at the snack counter. The communal experience of moviegoing will be threatened. The erosion of community continues. Robert D. Putnam's seminal 2000 book, Bowling Alone, suggested Americans were losing their love of lodges, church groups, sewing circles, book clubs, film societies, veterans' halls, and so on. Who foresaw we might also someday be seeing new movies alone?