Insipid Sequels

This blog post is born out of my frustration of watching so many film sequels which are, frankly, not worth the discs they’re coded onto.  The latest example was my attempt to watch the entire Jurassic Park trilogy.  Although the original film isn’t the best film I’ve ever seen it did manage some awe-inspiring effects and was genuinely frightening in places.  It’s only big problem was the thinly constructed storyline.  It was abundantly clear that the film-makers wanted to make a thriller using their newly developed CGI; every element of plot in the film brings the characters to this point where they’re hunted by dinosaurs through the Park.  There’s nothing wrong with this, it just leaves the plot seeming rather stale, but the film mostly manages to hold its own in spite of this.

The problem arises when, as with many highly successful films, it’s decided to make sequels in order to capitalise on the popularity to gain greater profits.  This is an assumption on my part but the desire to make a profit seems to be the primary reason for making the sequel, rather than the film-makers have a burning desire to make another film.  Hence the complete lack of vision which Jurassic Park: The Lost World seemed to possess.  I’ll confess I gave up on it after half an hour of watching* – I was bored to death by the total lack of a storyline and none of the reviews I found suggested it improved, nor that the third film was any better.  Circumstances force the characters back to an island covered with dinosaurs, where they proceed to engage in banter regarding the lead’s girlfriend and his daughter, getting into danger solely through the characters’ own stupidity (“I’m going to go look at this dinosaur!” “No!” “Your girlfriend is crazy, lol.” “Ahhh, I’m being attacked, help me!”).  These seem to be common attributes of these insipid, profit-driven sequels: poorly written character-focused drama in which the characters create the film’s drama through their own unconvincing stupidity.  This does nothing to endear the audience to the film or its characters.  I’m aware The Lost World is based off a book, as is the first film, though I believe it’s quite a loose adaptation (and looking at the synopsis for the novel on Wikipedia, it doesn’t look particularly inspiring either).

The Lost World is [probably] a poor film; I could have left it at that, except this is a pattern I’ve seen so often before.  The worst offenders are often Disney films.  A couple of examples of sequels which absolutely ruined the legacy of the original which come to mind are Mulan II and Brother Bear 2.  The latter particularly annoyed me when I watched it – Mulan was a fantastic film with one of the best female leads Disney has produced, which the sequel reduced to an unbelievable romance film.  I’d also include sequels to The Matrix, my hatred of which I’ve already written about extensively.  There’s plenty of other examples, you just need to Google “worst film sequels” to find lists upon lists of terrible films, most of which I’ve mercifully never been exposed to.

Although universally popular, I’m not including sequels in franchises such as the Star Wars prequels or Pirates of the Caribbean.  The quality of these films may be up for debate – I personally quite like them – but I think most people would agree they’re different from the films I described above.  They do at least have plotlines which run throughout the entire film series and feature real character development across the films, rather than being 90 minutes spent emulating a sitcom (although the latest PotC film has begun to head down this direction…).  Other successful examples are The Lion King and Toy Story sequels. The difference is that, although these films were made because they were guaranteed successes at the Box Office, the filmmakers had a vision for the films they wanted to make.  So I’d say to screenwriters, producers, directors, and everyone else involved in sequels, by all means make a follow-up to the latest Box Office success but, please, have a vision which can justify it.  Perhaps if profits were determined by the quality of reviews rather than the number of sales we’d see more sequels with a justifiable existence.

Also, the reason I’ve focused on films rather than books is that although many terrible sequels to books exist, most do tend to have a certain minimal degree of plot and character development.  Perhaps this is because novels are usually the creation of one mind, who can easily stamp their vision into them, whereas film sequels seem to be the product of money-hungry film executives.

Have you got any examples of film sequels you feel fall into this category of ‘insipid sequels’, or ones you feel worked successfully?  Please let me know in the comments box!

*I know, this makes me sound such a lazy critic!  I’ll redeem myself when I review Ulysses

Lincoln (2012) (Review)

Contains spoilers.

Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, has proved to be one of those few films I don’t have a huge opinion on.  I went into the cinema, watched it, left, did some minimal research on the topic, but on the whole have been left mostly unchanged for having seen it.  Nevertheless, there are various points I’d like to pick up on.

The film is set across the early months of 1965 as the American Civil War drew to a close, after many years of bloody fighting which had left hundreds of thousands dead.  President Abraham Lincoln, recently re-elected, is not only fighting the Confederates to the south, but is also pushing to pass what would be the Thirteenth Amendment to the USA constitution which would abolish slavery.  As a purely historical film it is impossible to separate the plot from its historical source, though unfortunately I do not have a great enough knowledge of American history to comment in detail on the film’s accuracy.  I’ll presume that, artistic licence aside, it is the product of extensive research.  The film is very detailed in its coverage of the passing of the amendment, and I learned a lot about the circumstances involved.  I had no idea that the amendment was not passed until during the end of the war (as a means of ensuring that a wartime proclamation which had abolished slavery would continue when the war ended), nor the enormous difficulties it took convincing both the Democrats in opposition and Lincoln’s own Republican party to agree to it.

(On a tangent, it’s also interesting to see the Democrats as a more conservative party, dedicated at the time to keeping slavery, even if that was not their long-term ideological aim.  After the war the southern states would consistently vote democrats, which would continue until the second half of the 20th century when the parties’ power bases switched.  The Democrats would eventually provide the USA’s first black president, Barack Obama, in 2008.  It’s fascinating how political parties can change over the years.)

One challenge to creating such an in-depth portrayal of historical events which are predominantly political is that, for viewers who are not experts on the selected period, conveying the narrative to the audience can be challenging.  On this occasion, I think Spielberg has done exceedingly well, although that’s not without flaws.  Quite often, I was left confused over the precise mechanics of American law and the reasons for various actions.  I can’t think of any way this could be rectified without turning the film into a documentary, but it’s a flaw nonetheless.  Another incredulity I had was during the many occasions Democratic representatives were convinced to vote ‘yes’ to adopt the amendment by Lincoln’s… Is ‘henchmen’ too strong a word?  There was a lot of bribery, which is shocking if true, though believable.  However there were many instances were, after simply having a conversation, people would completely change their opinion – particularly when speaking to Lincoln himself.  Perhaps this is to exaggerate his oratory skills and negotiating ability, but I was never quite convinced.  I would also have liked to see more of the Confederate States of America in the South, to add to the realism.  Finally, it was also an odd decision, in a film about Lincoln, to not actually show his assassination, instead it being announced afterwards.  I can see why they might have left it out – it may have ruined the tone of the film’s generally jubilant ending by showing too many details, maybe – but I think including it would have been better.

Where the film excels most is the smaller historical details.  From the intricate design of primitive communications technology – constantly tapping messages in Morse Code – to the design of costumes, the film really felt like it was set in the 19th century.  I was particularly impressed with a shot filmed in front of the White House, a feature often seen today in modern politics, however completely immersed in the surroundings of a 19th century city.  I don’t know whether they actually filmed this scene in front of the White House – or even if that would be possible, perhaps it’s changed too much – but it felt utterly real.

The stand-out feature to Lincoln, as its perfomance at the Oscars would suggest, is the acting.  Daniel Day-Lewis is perfect in his portrayal as Lincoln.  He plays a thoughtful, somewhat quirky, and extremely likeable version of the US President, visually and vocally precisely as I would imagine him to be.  No footage exists of Lincoln, so he had more room to vary his performance, but it stands up to contemporary accounts of the man.  It’s a very balanced performance, unafraid to show both his strengths of diplomacy and strategy to the stresses of his family life.  I watched an interview of Day-Lewis and he is so different in real life.  Hiring a British actor to play Lincoln was always going to be a risky move, but one which has paid off in so many ways; even his accent is flawless.  The entire cast is also worthy of mention – Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens and Sally Field as Mary Lincoln were particularly impressive.

Overall, Lincoln is a very successful film in terms of achieving its aims; well directed, well acted, and creates a vibrant historical period.  However it is limited in terms of entertainment by the events it must cover, and at times did drag on and lose my interests, even if always to soon regain it.  A good film, but not a great film, and one which has not had a large impact upon me.

Final Rating: 7.5/10