Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) -vs- Spider-Man 3 (2007) -vs- Shrek the Third (2007) -vs- Ocean’s 13 (2007) -vs- Rush Hour 3 (2007) -vs- The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) -vs- Resident Evil 3 (2007)
Okay, not really. Who would attempt such a ridiculous Smackdown? Who would have the stamina? All of the movies you see in this Ultimate Fighting Smackdown are three-peats, or the sequel after the sequel, or triple-plays.
With the rare exception, the third time is not the charm. We recently put Spider-Man 3 -vs- Superman III to illustrate the point about threequels. Neither stood up well to its own predecessor.
Just to be clear, this isn’t only the Summer of Three. One film is a five-peat, the sturdiest franchise since James Bond, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Another is a quad-quel: Live Free or Die Hard. That doesn’t include the three big sequels, 28 Weeks Later, Evan Almighty, and Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer.
You know what it’s starting to look like in our movie theaters? Expensive television series.
Quite often the sequel can equal the best of the original and, with the addition of money, even trump it in some ways. Clearly that has been the case for The Terminator trilogy where the first showed the concept, but the second delivered it fully. And even The Godfather, Part II and Aliens both also managed to rise to the level of their phenomenal openers. More recently, Spider-Man 2 made us forget the one that preceded it, even though, at the time, we liked that one immensely, too. Now, think of the third part of all those franchises. Each one is an arrow fired a little further from the mark that, by the time it hits the theaters, it’s way off. Exceptions: Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled trying to analyze what makes Hollywood tick. It is an odd conundrum that the cost of movies today calls for a risk-aversion strategy, but the creative innovation of film and television artists is what keeps entertainment working in the first place.
Creative people want to work and they love big budgets. They get given sequels and sequels-to-sequels and they’re happy to do them because the checks don’t bounce and the toys are to die for. The studios keep doing sequels until they run out of juice and, currently, they’re getting pretty good at guessing when that will be based on box office builds or declines. And, even after a concept has been beat to a shadow of its former glory, they can retire it a while, bring it back “new and improved” like “Batman” or “Superman” and start all over again.
Movies have to get you in the seat once or twice. So they aim for blockbusters. Television has to get you coming back every week. They aim for a continuing experience that engages the viewer. Guess which model gives us the best writing and the most risk-taking? Commercial television, hands down.
I’m not the only guy who’s saying this. There’s a nice piece in the Chicagoist which makes the same point. They were following up a February Newsweek piece where writer Devin Gordon states, “Why TV Is Better Than Movies.”
I’m only talking about commercial reality here. Big Film -versus- Big TV. Below the surface, independent film is still an exciting place to work and express ideas.
As a viewer, though, I’m struggling with the fact that our multi-plexes are filled with so little product and that it’s so predictable. My 15-year-old son wants to go to the movies tonight with his friends and asked me to buy the tickets ahead of time. The multiplex where there are usually seven or eight things showing had three choices: Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
On the other hand, these clones of clones of clones make for hardy Smackdowns. Hopefully, a few of our critics will throw down this weekend on what’s out there.