Sunday, December 17, 2006

Blame for sequel-mania misplaced

Barely before the eve of release for Lionsgate Films’ “Saw III,” the impending fate of another sequel-ridden film franchise is being realized.

Lionsgate announced Wednesday that it had already given a green light to produce “Saw IV.” This is astounding seeing as to how “Saw III” hits theaters a week from now.

The usual talk about the excessiveness of sequels seems overplayed at this point. The real issue is movie studios turning everything that is mildly successful into a full-blown franchise.

There is little room to doubt that under such repetition, audiences are rarely – if ever – seeing anything new. Franchises are franchises because of their familiarity, and it goes without saying that once something is overly familiar, it ceases to be of any interest.

Franchises fizzle out simply because they lack anything important or new. Not many people are interested in bringing back Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees. They have become old hat. They are uninteresting.

Audiences saw everything these characters were ever going to do in the first two films of their respective franchises, and that’s probably generous. There’s no excuse for an additional seven films other than the need for studio executives to continue to push profitable wears while simultaneously over-populating the movie world with one-trick ponies.

In other words, it’s not the film’s fault so much as it is the studio’s fault. Lionsgate has recently shown that it has a knack for repetition, as it has become one of the only film studios to consistently find a way to push sequels to its most successful movies for annual releases.

Don’t the executives at Lionsgate ever pause for a moment and think enough is enough?
Evidently they don’t, but they’re not alone. Think back three years ago to when Warner Brothers was pushing as hard as they could to produce two sequels to “The Matrix” that were to be released six months apart.

What resulted were two of the least imaginative follow-ups to one of the most imaginative films in modern cinema history. Panned by critics and audiences alike, “The Matrix” sequels came across as an attempt by Warner Brothers to make a quick buck.

One of the reasons that “The Matrix” sequels were popular was because they had the ability to ride the coattails of the original movie’s success. Like many sequels, “The Matrix” sequels were largely void of substance. They seemed like a ploy by Warner Brothers to get more money.

The same can be said about other upcoming sequels. Does anyone think that Eli Roth’s “Hostel: Part II,” another Lionsgate sequel, is going to be anything monumental? Probably not, since it’s likely to be a rehashing of the first film.

Oh, accept there are huge differences. This time it’s a cast of all women, and there’s going to be more gore. Now that’s some legitimate creativity. Executives at Lionsgate must think that these minor changes alone are cause for another unimaginative movie.

Studios always back sequels up by claiming that they’re giving audiences what they want to see. This isn’t entirely unfair as sequels often find a way to box office dominance. Audiences start to get a little cautious, though, when those sequels are released every year.

In the days of saturation advertising, it isn’t difficult to promote something new. Instead of re-treading, it seems to make more sense to invest in new projects. Sequels don’t give audiences something they have never seen before. If movies are supposed to feel new, there has to be some follow-through.

The ranting and raving of how a sequel is going to be unlike anything audiences have ever seen is a fallacious point in the first place. Lest we forget, there was an original movie that spawned the sequel.

Unless the audience is sleeping, it’s pretty safe to say that it picked up on almost everything the film had to offer. A sequel will not show it anything new. It’s just a way to milk a lucrative series under the pretense of “you haven’t seen anything yet.”

But we have. If we hadn’t seen anything yet, why was the first film even made? This tagline is overly reliant on the need to get audiences to turn out to a movie. The more people that go, the more money can be made.

What better way to encourage that than with a cliché tagline?

If money is the bottom line, then the studios have to at least make it illusory. The saturation of sequels makes the money grubbing just a little too obvious.

Sequels should not constitute the main course of a studio’s offerings. They should be used sparingly. We don’t need a sequel to “Saw” or “Hostel” every year. That’s excessive, and the only thing that mentality is banking on is the predictability of box office trends at certain times of the year.

For every successful movie there are many that fail, but that’s a chance the studios have got to be willing to take.

Otherwise, how else are they going to discover what’s sequel material?

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