Why long-awaited sequels are never that good
[Note from the editor: This article is by prospective staff writer Nathan Kerner. Enjoy!]
It seems we’re currently living in a golden age of cinema; at least, that’s what the internet has been telling me. Personally, I don’t see it, but for those film fans out there who have been waiting a long, long time for sequels to their favorite movies, the immediate future certainly looks bright.
Not only is a new Star Wars movie coming out, but also a long-awaited sequel to Jurassic Park. A new Ghostbusters movie (or possibly even an entire universe) appears to be in the works, Neill Blomkamp is setting social media afire with his concept art for a new Alien movie, and Harrison Ford has reportedly signed up for a sequel to Blade Runner. If you’ve been waiting decades for the return of your favorite franchises, there’s a good chance you’ll be pleased by what’s coming in the next few years.
But there’s a much better chance you won’t, because it’s all going to be terrible.
I haven’t done the scientific analysis, but I do know one thing just through observation: long-awaited sequels, especially if that wait has been a decade or more, are never satisfying. They may not be entirely bad, but they never live up to expectations. So even though the internet is celebrating the return of several classic franchises, I can only roll my eyes with each new trailer that comes along.
Here are just a few reasons why you should take a deep breath and prepare for all the crushing disappointments just around the corner.
The original creative team is gone
Leaving aside the obvious example of Star Wars, let’s look at 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. It continues the story of the previous two films, it’s centered around John Connor, it has Arnold Schwarzenegger back, and it finally shows us Judgment Day. By all measures, it should have been great. Except it was missing one key element: James Cameron.
Cameron created the Terminator universe, so if anyone should have continued the story, it should have been him. Over a decade after T2 became the summer movie of 1991, along comes T3, which while not being terrible, just felt underwhelming. Director Jonathan Mostow displayed a sure hand with the action scenes, but lacked the ability to blend the fantastical elements with the more human moments.
James Cameron, in his early years, had a knack for those moments. His affection for the material and the characters is missing from Terminator 3, so really, what are we left with? A twelve-year wait punctuated by a film that can be summed up with, “eh, it’s alright, I guess.”
So when you get excited for the new Jurassic World trailer, remember that instead of Steven Spielberg, we’re getting a director who previously only made a romantic comedy with a budget that was maybe 1/100th of what the original Jurassic Park cost.
And I’m sure that many of you reading this are eager to point out cases where the original creative team did come back, only to drop the ball, such as with the Star Wars prequels. Which brings me to my next point.
Even if the original creative team returns, it doesn’t matter
Let’s talk about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Everyone was really excited for that movie, including me. And then it came out. Without even opening the whole George Lucas can of worms, it’s clear what happened to Spielberg and Harrison Ford in the 19 years since The Last Crusade: They got old.
Indiana Jones was awesome in the ‘80s because he was a man of action who always took on the big challenges by himself. At 65, Harrison Ford, while still game for the physical challenge, seemed to move a step slower, which would explain his expansive supporting cast in that movie.
Meanwhile, Spielberg had come a long way from when he was the king of blockbusters in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He had made prestige films and won Oscars, and it would seem that when it came to Indy, Spielberg had simply moved on from the material. Coming back to it, he managed to get some of the feel right, but something was missing.
Filmmakers grow and change over the course of their careers. Spielberg has said that he would have changed the ending of Close Encounters if he were making it now, because fatherhood has altered his perspective on life, and he would never have Neary leave his family to go aboard the mothership. Basically, even if your long-awaited sequel has the same director, it still won’t be the same director. Just look at Prometheus. Remember how excited everyone got because Ridley Scott was coming back to the Alien franchise?
And even if your most beloved filmmakers were exactly the same people they were years or decades ago, that wouldn’t matter either, because…
Filmmaking has evolved, and the original movie’s cultural moment has passed
Star Wars, when it was released in 1977, changed the sci-fi genre. Science fiction films of the era were previously slow-paced, and laced with social commentary. There’s nothing wrong with that; it was just the aesthetic of the day. And Star Wars stood out because it was different. The prequels, on the other hand, were just another series of CGI-filled blockbusters that were heavy on effects but light on plot.
In 1994, Jurassic Park had the most realistic looking dinosaurs audiences had ever seen on screen. Jurassic World will be just another film with CGI monsters running around. Filmmaking itself changes, which is why the original King Kong is still respected as a major special effects milestone, while Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake was mostly “meh”.
But the best example of this is John Carpenter’s The Thing and its 2011 prequel. Carpenter’s film was itself a remake, but its practical effects and puppet work were incredible, which enhanced the horror because everything looked so disgusting. The 2011 film, on the other hand, saw a lot of its practical effects either “enhanced” or completely replaced by CGI in post-production, and now no one but me seems to remember that film ever existed.
These coming sequels appear to have garnered goodwill because of who’s involved, whether it be Chris Pratt in Jurassic World (how did the lovable, dimwitted goofball from Parks and Rec become A-list, anyway?) or J.J. Abrams directing Episode VII (even though his most accomplished film to date is the Star Trek reboot, which was a solid B-minus at best). But none of the people awaiting these films seem to have taken into account the history of disappointment that long-awaited sequels bring with them. They will more than likely be reminded very soon.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I can clearly remember being excited when I saw the trailer for a new Star Wars movie some 17 years ago, and we all know how that turned out.