Sunday, October 16, 2011
... FOR "CINEMA'S MOST NONSENSICAL SEQUELS"
My six-year-old daughter currently has three obsessions in life: her Littlest Pet Shop toys, these elaborate arts and crafts projects she likes to do all over the house (more specifically, she'll sit at the kitchen table with her scissors and crayons for hours on end, and it's the discarded pieces of trash that we find all over the house), and Disney's Princesses. The first two have only become part of her daily regimen within the last few years or so. The Princess thing, though... that's been ingrained since birth. It's a girl thing, I suppose – this fascination with tiaras and magic wands and big poofy dresses. And we're more than happy to indulge her, as long as Prince Charming keeps his distance.
So it wasn't a shock to find her glued to one of those Disney Princess Enchanted Tales on TV the other day. This one featured Aurora, Sleeping Beauty herself, who'd been left alone to govern the kingdom while the prince and the king went off to a weekend seminar or something. It didn't take long for Aurora to break into a musical number, a semi- elaborate bit called "Keys To The Kingdom," and as I listened, a thought entered my head: "Funny. This doesn't sound like Tchaikovsky at all."
No doubt you're familiar with the Tchaikovsky/ Disney connection by now. Walt Disney used the ballet as a musical backdrop for his 16th Animated Classic, so you'll forgive me if "Keys To The Kingdom" felt just a bit out of place. The look of that 1959 masterpiece, based on European paintings and medieval architecture, was also conspicuously absent - replaced by the softer lines and computer- aided backgrounds of so many Disney titles since.
I know, I know - it's a simple kids' entertainment, produced cheaply and quickly and meant to distract the young'uns for twenty minutes at a time. Still, as a die-hard fan of the movie, I couldn't help feeling a little betrayed by this. Sleeping Beauty, after all, was meant as a one-off, an experiment, an attempt to broaden the boundaries of Disney animation as we knew it. Surely, from their entire catalog of films, it was not one that cried out for a sequel.
And that got me to thinking, as it usually does, about the long, sad history of films intended to stand on their own, but given the obligatory sequel treatment instead. The problem is, these inferior follow-ups were apparently concocted by folks who never saw a single frame of the original movies. They simply took the initial concept, put their own "spin" on the material, and bam! - saddled us with a movie that completely missed the point of the original. (Picture a slapstick comedy sequel to Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains teamed with the Marx Brothers to thwart Nazis all over Europe, and you'll get the idea.)
Here are five wrong-headed sequels that stick out like a cinematic sore thumb. Again, please keep in mind this list is not at all comprehensive:
Title: Staying Alive (Sylvester Stallone, 1983)
Sequel To: Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977)
Why It Didn't Work: A box-office behemoth that spoke to an entire generation of fans is updated as a sweaty, mind-meltingly chauvinistic, music-video mess of a movie. Director Sylvester Stallone (yes, that Sylvester Stallone) shifts his sequel's focus to John Travolta's glistening abs instead - and while I suppose there's a certain demographic for that kind of thing, Staying Alive is like a kick in the pants to everything Fever fans hold dear. Tony Manero is now a preening man-whore sleeping his way through New York, has apparently left all his friends in the dust, and worse, he's traded his disco dreams for a soul-crushing stint on Broadway. Also, dig that final, "triumphant" musical number, which looks like it cost the filmmakers a fortune in Vaseline and kitschy light-show effects.
Oh, And By The Way: Screenwriter Norman Wexler's initial drafts for the movie picked up immediately after the events of Saturday Night Fever, showing Tony's continued attempts to make it in Manhattan. Stallone re-wrote the entire script once he came on board, eliminating virtually every character who appeared in the original.
Title: 2010 (Peter Hyams, 1984)
Sequel To: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
Why It Didn't Work: Stanley Kubrick's seminal sci-fi masterwork is the antithesis of any movie with decent pacing, relatable human characters, or an actual plot. It's more of a critics' darling than an audience favorite (unless you count yourself among the hippie-drug culture of the 1960s), but it built up enough of a cult following to warrant this 1984 sequel, which chronicles a joint effort between Russian and American space programs to uncover the mystery behind Discovery One's failed mission to Jupiter. The plotting, this time, is remarkably straight-forward, with a few nutso touches thrown in for good measure (HAL returns, as does Keir Dullea as a ghost/spirit version of his character from 2001). It isn't terrible but it's still fairly dull, in a generic, connect-the-dots sort of way. Kubrick's movie is a two-hour, twenty-minute think-piece on the wonders of technology and humankind's propensity for violence; you can hate on that all you want, but its mysteries were better left unexplained.
Oh, And By The Way: During pre-production on 2010, writer-director Peter Hyams was able to communicate with the book's author, Arthur C. Clarke, via a primitive form of e-mail. Clarke offered ideas on how to adapt the novel's plot for the big screen; he later compiled these e-mails into a book, The Odyssey File.
Title: Return To Oz (Walter Murch, 1985)
Sequel To: The Wizard Of Oz (Victor Fleming plus uncredited others, 1939)
Why It Didn't Work: Admittedly, this is just about the only title on this list I'm actually kinda fond of, as I like the concept if not the execution. Everything about it goes against the grain: It was released (by Disney) a whopping 46 years after the original; it's the only directorial effort from renowned film editor/sound designer Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient); there are no musical numbers; and it plays like a hallucinatory nightmare compared to Wizard's Technicolor day-glo fantasy world. It's about as far left field as you can possibly get, yet there's something to be said for all the whacked-out, surrealist characters on display (Nome Kings and Wheelers and headless witches – oh my!), which still haunt me to this day.
Oh, And By The Way: It's actually based on Frank L. Baum's sequel novels, The Marvelous Land Of Oz (1904) and Ozma Of Oz (1907). Director Walter Murch never intended his film to be a follow-up to MGM's original classic, but Disney marketed it that way anyway. Because of this (perhaps), Return To Oz grossed only $11 million at the box office.
Title: RoboCop 2 (Irvin Kershner, 1990)
Sequel To: RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)
Why It Didn't Work: Paul Verhoeven's wicked-sharp RoboCop is a satire disguised as a slam-bang sci-fi actioner. My cousin and I snuck into the theater and wound up seeing it twice in the same afternoon - because that's what every thrill-hungry pre- teen's brain actually craves: unadulterated, ultra-violent excitement. As an adult, RoboCop's subtextual commentary on Reaganism, privatization, and the evils of corporate capitalism have more of a bite - and elevate the movie to something of a classic. So how, exactly, do you make a sequel to this sort of thing? Simple: You drop the satire and amp up the violence, of course, to cover up the fact that you've got nothing important to say. Robo 2 sends our titular hero after the drug dealers plaguing his city's streets - which is a pleasant-enough idea, I guess, but now there's a sadistic streak to the violence, and the original's subversive sense of humor is nowhere in sight. An abomination - and from the director of The Empire Strikes Back no less!
Oh, And By The Way: Believe it or not, 1993's RoboCop 3 is even worse - a PG-13-rated monstrosity in which Robo rebels against his superiors, flies around with a jetpack, and fights a pair of evil Japanese samurai cyborgs (I am not making this up).
Title: Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (Joe Berlinger, 2000)
Sequel To: The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999)
Why It Didn't Work: No matter what you think of the movie itself, The Blair Witch Project is still a masterpiece of marketing and, until My Big Fat Greek Wedding three years later, was the most successful independent film of all time. It also set the standard for all "found footage" films that followed, from its shaky-cam first-person point of view, to its increasingly-hysterical protagonists whose actions defy all common sense. So it's no surprise that the makers of Blair Witch 2 would try to duplicate that success... with this dreadful meta-sequel featuring obvious scares, psychic characters, and virtually no first-person digital camerawork at all. You have to give 'em props for trying something a little different, but the novelty's worn off. Sequels don't come any more desperate than this.
Oh, And By The Way: Blair Witch directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez had little involvement with the sequel, rushed to theaters by Artisan Entertainment to cash in on the popularity of the original.
As usual, here's the part where I ask you, Loyal Reader, to add any other title I've neglected to mention above. This list barely even scratches the surface, people. I'd love to hear your thoughts!