Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as ghostfacekillah and olddirrtybastard5 in order to discuss some topical topic of interest.
This week, it’s the horrifying growth of the trend in Hollywood to take old movies and make sequels for them. The fans are too hip to reboots and remakes, but if they can convince an aging actor to retread barren ground, then it’s all aboard the money train.
Of course, that’s not always the case, but how else do you explain Indiana Jones 4? The problem is that these movies either suck or are hollow shells of what a franchise once was.
So if you’re making a decades-later sequel, what are the problems and how do you avoid them?
Cole: Scream 4 hits theaters today, and beyond just being another entry in a horror franchise, it has the distinction of being part of a growing new genre: the decades-later sequel.
The problems are obvious: old characters we haven’t seen in years, a Where Are They Now feel to the whole thing, a question of relevance, etc.
So what’s the formula for a good decades-later sequel? What has to happen for it to be entertaining on its own and be a worthy addition to a franchise?
Landon: I’d start off by locating the difference, or lack thereof, between decade-later sequels and franchise relaunches. Movies like Scream 4 seem to be a hybrid of those two categories.
That’s quite different than movies that really do have something new to say after a long time since the last one, like the new stock market crash that motivated Wall Street 2 (interesting idea, not a great movie) or one of the best decades-later sequels (though technically it was only 9 years after), Before Sunset.
Cole: See, I normally think of a relaunch as wiping the slate clean with all new characters, or new actors to play old characters. The new Nightmare on Elm Street was a reboot. Rocky Balboa was a decades-later sequel. Even Predators has, you know, predators in it to keep the continuity of the story in tact.
Landon: Yes, but I think there’s a crossing of the line between decades-later sequel and reboot with movies like Scream 4, Tron Legacy, and especially Predators which is a really good example of the blurring of the line, because while continuity exists it’s not exactly the point of the film. The point is to re-live the old stuff as new.
On the other hand, a movie like Before Sunset had a lot more story to tell so many years after the fact
Cole: So there’s the first problem. A decades-later sequel has to deal with being burdened by old ideas. Or former icons that might have not aged well.
Landon: Yeah, and in that there’s an inherent problem with all of them: the story of the previous movie never necessitated a sooner sequel So there’s rarely a sense that more of a story needed to be told.
Cole: Because, in theory, if they had wanted to make another one earlier, they would have invented Facebook.
So their ideas are old when they’re born. Gordon Gekko doesn’t need a sequel because his story is wrapped up, but don’t people want to see him get out of jail? Like that old librarian in Shawshank? Would Money Never Sleeps had been way better if Michael Douglas simply carved his name in a wooden beam and killed himself?
Landon: It would have been the best short film of Oliver Stone’s career
Wouldn’t a Shawshank sequel just be called Redeemed?
Cole: Or Gone Fishin’.
Landon: But it seems we’re getting to another difference, and that’s the relationship from decades-later sequels to standalone movies and decades-later sequels to previous franchises.
Cole: Definitely. But they still have similar crosses to bear – old characters who maybe didn’t age well (or are simply just not in the cultural conversation anymore) and no immediate need to exist (storywise). Those are huge. I would argue that something like Rocky Balboa works because the character was still iconic when the movie was made. Because Rocky Balboa is in the upper echelon of movie icons. Granted, it still wasn’t a great movie. But it was good, and that’s an achievement.
It turns out, Gordon Gekko is not in that upper echelon…
Landon: The selling point of most decades-later sequels then seem to be as curiosity pieces. Knowing how Balboa spent his old age or how Gekko lives in the 21st century are all interesting thoughts, they just don’t make for movies that are “necessary” in any real way.
And as such, expectations are constantly low. When I found out there was a sequel being made to Before Sunrise, I couldn’t believe what a stupid idea that was. Then I saw the movie and I realized there were other places to go with these characters. It’s a good movie, and I’m not saying it shouldn’t exist if one is inspired, but the original ultimately still stands alone.
Cole: There’s the big issue.
We, as an audience, know more than what’s between the first and last frame. And these decades-later sequels seem part and parcel of the reboot/remake moneygrab that’s currently going on. They all seem like uninspired instances of people going back to the well to scrape out a last few specks of moisture.
Landon: And many of them fall spectacularly on their face, like Basic Instinct 2.
The Sting also had a decades-later sequel I just found out about. It was lost in cultural memory.
So they either arise out of curiosity because of a new context (Wall Street 2 – I don’t think many were seeking to relaunch those Wall Street 1 bux) or a desire to relaunch or get more from a franchise (Tron: Legacy), or both (Rocky Balboa)
Cole: Let me ask this: Are the results we’ve seen so far confirmation that they’re mostly just cash grabs? Has the poor quality shown that these are stories being told to capitalize on name recognition, or has it shown that making a decades-later sequel is just damned difficult?
Landon: I think most of the time yes, they are cash grabs, but I’m more okay with that than I am most relaunches because these movies at least don’t try to erase the existence of – or pretend we’ve forgotten – the original.
But rarely do they make great movies. Before Sunset was the only good example that I could think of. Are there decades-later sequels that you’re really happy that they were made? Ones that maybe add something to the original?
Cole: The first 30 minutes of Predators, Rocky Balboa, and of course The Social Network was a decades-later sequel to Real Genius.
Landon: Because they speak to the original in some way. Through Jesse Eisenberg, we really come to understand Val Kilmer.
But even some relaunches and franchises straddle that line as well. Abrams’s Star Trek can be argued as a decades-later sequel, and I’m not even sure where James Bond would fit into all this.
Cole: Or the new Star Wars trilogy.
Really, what we’ve proven so far is that. If you have an old, now irrelevant character, you have to prove they he/she is relevant or interesting again. If there wasn’t a need for further story directly after the last movie came out, then you have to work hard to find where the story is before telling it.
Already we’ve exhausted the brains of most studio execs. One of them just fell right off the office treadmill.
I have a third rule: Don’t pander too much to the built-in audience. I feel like that’s what Tron: Legacy did. I have friends who loved it, but they all also loved the original. Everyone else seems indifferent or completely bored by it. A decades-later sequel can’t just be two hours of proof that you know all the inside jokes of the original.
Landon: Very true. When you have a decades-later sequel, you have to realize you’re going to have an audience that’s completely new to the material no matter what, even if it’s a character as iconic as Indiana Jones.
That way deacdes-later sequels aren’t only nostalgia-rides
Cole: And then you have to treat the character with respect, instead of making your whip-cracking hero a passive old man trying to find a glass alien skull.
Landon: An element which would have made Basic Instinct 2 a lot better.
Cole: More glass alien skulls?
Landon: And elderly people whip-cracking.
Cole: I think you fixed it.
Landon: Though I do understand why decades-later sequels are attractive and fresh. I was excited for Tron: Legacy, not because I was a huge fan of the original, but because the idea of something old put into the possibilities of a new context is interesting. It’s the allure of possibilities. But once you get down to the meat of it, those possibilities are restrained by a strange relationship to the original
That said, i would never want to live in a world where Return to Oz didn’t exist.
Cole: I would. I’d have way fewer nightmares about wheelers and old ladies taking their heads off.
Are there any properties that you’d like to see a decades-later sequel to?
Landon: At the risk of absolutely ruining a movie I love, a sequel to Easy Rider would have been interesting if you overlook the fact that they got shot at the end. A Republican Dennis Hopper hanging out with Peter Fonda’s giant teeth
Cole: Butch Cassidy comes to mind if you overlook the fact that they got shot at the end.
Jokes aside, I think I’d like to see a sequel to Spirited Away since it’s a decade old, it would be interesting to see Chihiro slightly grown up, and it would be fantastic to revisit that world.
So, yeah, that, The Sting 3 or The Godfather III (since they never, ever, ever made a sequel to The Godfather II (ever)).
Landon: That would be a great topic on its own: do-overs.
Cole: There’s nothing to do-over since The Godfather III doesn’t exist. But you’re right. Maybe next week we can talk do-overs.
As for this week, I think we’ve hit on at least a few rules for this newish phenomenon. Were you paying attention, Ghostbusters 3?
Landon: Thank God, the studios get all our memos.
Suggest a topic for next week by leaving it in the comments