Thursday, July 06, 2006

Part Deux

As I anxiously await 12:05 am tonight for the first general showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest I'm reminding myself of a basic reality of my own movie viewing history: Sequels suck!

Don't get me wrong, I've seen many sequels that I enjoyed and that were in their own right fine films - alright, at least okay films. But in the end, it is the extremely unique sequel that matches, much less surpasses, its predecessor (or my expectations) - and for good reason. A first film captures (and takes away from its successors) the newness, the fantasy, the suspense, the visuals of a new concept.

It's the "first date" syndrome - and expectations that future dates will capture the same level of excitement are hardly ever met. (Okay, I'll make an exception for my wife...)

And I'm not speaking here about every sequel of every mediocre movie ever made - which are generally low-budget, low quality money makers. But rather I'm talking about blockbusters whose sequels were long awaited by millions who rushed out on day-one to spend their hard earned cash for 2 hours of anticipated bliss... only to be slightly disappointed because the movie just lacked something that they couldn't put their finger on.

Look at some groundbreaking examples - epic films, or box office blockbusters, whose sequels were equally grand (and financially successful), and yet never quite captured the magic of the original film: The Godfather, Rocky, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Mission Impossible, The Matrix, The Terminator, Harry Potter, and yes, even Lord of the Rings.

What? Lord of the Rings, Return of the King won the Academy Award for Best Film? Yeah, big deal. It was the Fellowship, the first film of the series, that captured the audience's imagination and the true spirit of the films that would succeed it. What a daring piece of film-making that was awarded only after the entire trilogy was released.

And yes, I've loved every Harry Potter film made, but none make me feel the way the first did. The Sorcerer's Stone is the movie that gave tangible realization to inconceivable imagination. And each film to come after has been wonderful, but the scene was already set for them by the first - and none has jumped out to truly excel over the original.

In fact, in thirty years I can think of only two.

The first is Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars (A New Hope) shocked everyone and set a new bar for technology in film. It was hard to believe it could be topped - its sequel would be just another lame continuation of shallow and already developed characterizations. And yet through an excellent cast and story line - and even greater imagination than the first film - Empire rose soundly above the level of A New Hope and became the ultimate Star Wars film - the best of six.

The second is Spiderman II. Spiderman was itself a good and complete film. But Spiderman II took a different track than repeating more of the same - it ventured inside its characters. And it succeeded in making a sequel that was not only much better than its predecessor, but much different as well. Spiderman II was as much an introspective drama as it was action thriller. And it was superbly done.

The only other sequel which comes to mind as better than the first in its series is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which was an unexpectedly entertaining film. But I don't include it here simply because it had no competition: It "had to be" a better than the original - Star Trek The Movie was simply a horrid film. In that respect, Khan can be viewed more as the first "real" movie in the series, and none has come close to it since.

So... what about Shrek II which everyone said was better than the original Shrek? I guess I wasn't smoking whatever those reviewers were. Compared to the original, I find Shrek II laborious to watch. No competition there.

And this all brings us back to today. Pirates II: Dead Man's Chest is the most anticipated "sequel" of the year - and damned if my expectations for it aren't extremely high.

It would be nice to add a third film to my list of two. I can only hope that I'll be so entertained.

At least for today, I can still delight in the anticipation.

We'll see how I feel tomorrow...



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