3 + 1 = Poor: Four trilogies that took it too far
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
Hey, why stop now...?
The movie world is chock full of classic trilogies: Sergio Leone’s 'Man With No Name' (or 'Dollars') (1964 - 1966), Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather (1972 - 1990 -- the first two films of which were so outstanding that they made up for the shortcomings of the lacklustre third instalment), Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future (1985 - 1990), and Pixar’s Toy Story (1995 - 2010) trilogy are but four examples.
The crucial thing that makes them classic trilogies, however, and this may be an obvious point but one that seems to have been overlooked time and again by the powers that be in Hollywood, is that they all contain three films. No more, no less.
As a result, they are frozen for all eternity with their classic status intact, and due to a number of factors they will stay that way - namely the fact that Eastwood is all but retired from the acting side of the camera, the Sopranos have usurped the Corleones as the mob family du jour, Michael J Fox is sadly stricken with Parkinson’s disease, and Pixar, well Pixar know when to quit when they’re ahead (though they may be testing that theory with the upcoming Cars 2).
Never will these series have the ghastly word ‘quadrilogy’ plastered across a collection, nor will they have their legacies defiled at the whim of shameless producers who may claim to love film, but in fact live their lives by the Jerry McGuire mantra of “Show me the money!”
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the following collection of movies that are undoubtedly still regarded as classics when it comes to the first three instalments (by this writer, anyway), but who have had their good names besmirched by distinctly lacking third sequels (and beyond, in certain cases).
Now don’t get me wrong, these fourth episodes weren’t necessarily awful, and a couple of them were even good movies in their own right, but they just couldn’t walk a meter, never mind a mile, in the shoes of the preceding three films.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at those franchises that went, to paraphrase Richard Attenborough’s seminal 1977 war movie, A Bridge Too Four...
The first Saw movie was nothing short of a shot in the arm for horror movies when it hit the big screen in October 2004. It had torture, it had blood, it had terror and it had Cary Elwes and Danny Glover, who was clearly not yet too old for this shit. Most of all, though, it had an enigmatic villain in the shape of Tobin Bell’s John ‘Jigsaw’ Kramer and a twist ending that, like David Fincher’s The Game (1997), would have you leaving the cinema with either a grin on your face, as I did, or feeling cheated.
Fortunately there were sufficient of the former responses to warrant a sequel just twelve months later, which gave us a front row seat to a large scale Jigsaw trap and further fleshed out both the character and the mythology. Throwing in the return of the only survivor from the first movie in a surprising role and then brilliantly revisiting the scene of Jigsaw’s original game before ending on a pseudo cliff-hanger, Saw II achieved that rare distinction of being a very worthy sequel.
Another twelve months later and Saw III, intended to be the concluding part of the story, found us locked in another game, this time directed by Jigsaw from his deathbed as he forces a doctor to keep him alive for the duration of what we assume to be his final victim’s test. Though ending on another cliff-hanger, the fact that John Kramer is killed on screen seemed to suggest that the game was indeed over, and as I walked from the cinema I reflected on the fact that horror had gained another trilogy to be proud of. I should have known better.
When Saw IV was announced mere weeks after III had departed the multiplexes, I was a little surprised but nevertheless willing to give it a fair shot. Sadly the movie didn't have the courtesy to be as fair with me, so much so that despite having paid close attention to the detail of the first three films, I left the cinema feeling cheated and thinking ‘what the hell just happened?’ as the writers pulled a cheap rug from under my feet in the dying minutes. The very liberal use of time as to just when the events of this movie were occurring in relation to the accepted mythology of the first three would have been fine, if at the end of it all I could have sat there and thought ‘aha, I see what you’ve done, very clever’. But I couldn’t, even after a second viewing some months later on DVD. Though the traps were inventive, the characters OK, and the flashbacks of Jigsaw’s previous life interesting, Saw IV left a sufficiently bad taste in my mouth that even the attempts to ret-con everything in the remainder of the seven-movie cycle into making reasonable sense couldn’t wash it completely away.
As any film fan worth their salt knows, Ridley Scott's 1979 haunted house in space movie took a very basic concept, combined it with the brain-melting imagery of Swiss artist H R Giger, mixed in a talented and believable cast and turned out a masterpiece of both the horror and sci-fi genres. There was suspense, menace, shocking moments of gore, and a neat resolution as Sigourney Weaver's final girl Ripley drifted off into hyper sleep having exterminated the xenomorph.
Seven years later, hot from the success of The Terminator (1984) and, err, Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981), up-and-coming auteur James Cameron persuaded 20th Century Fox to let him have a crack at a sequel, and defied expectations by taking the franchise off into bold new action territory and producing an adrenaline-fuelled rollercoaster ride that was at least the equal of the first movie, and that raised the bar for future franchise sequel expectations.
Another six years later, following a gestation period almost as painful and bloody as that of the xenomorph itself, former music video director David Fincher delivered Alien3, a bold chapter that divided fans (many were upset by the casual disposal of two of the three survivors of LV-426) and was critically panned. However, the movie was very clever, as it again took the series off in new directions with the distinct absence of technology, guns and Ripley's hair, and even provided a conclusion to the trilogy with Ripley making the ultimate sacrifice to prevent a new queen from running riot (though this scene was excised from the Assembly Cut that was produced for the 2003 Quadrilogy box set).
For five years we had the almost perfect trilogy, but then in 1997 along came Alien Resurrection, Delicatessen (1991) director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's take on the mythology, based on a screenplay by Buffy creator Joss Whedon. It's not that it was a terrible movie - it just didn't have any of the wonder or intelligence of the preceding three instalments. What it did have was shoddy CGI and that bloody awful alien hybrid newborn thing that bore more than a passing resemblance to the titular creature from Stan Winston's Pumpkinhead (1988) from almost a decade earlier, though at least the Aliens were slightly scary, which is more than can be said for them in either of the terrible Alien vs. Predator (2004 | 2007) movies.
When Dr Henry Walton 'Indiana' Jones, Jr. first burst onto the big screen in 1981, it was a breath of fresh air. Here was a true hero, ripped from the episodic 1930's action serials, who traversed the globe in his battered leather jacket and fedora, his trusty bull-whip always to hand, in search of history's most elusive artefacts, in this case the Ark of the Covenant. The fact that he looked a bit like a certain Corellian smuggler from a recent pair of mildly successful space operas didn't hurt the picture's chances, and Raiders of the Lost Ark became one of the most successful movies of all time.
Three years later a prequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, swung into cinemas, giving us another adventure with our favourite treasure-seeking professor, not to mention the best mine-cart chase ever seen on celluloid. Deliberately darker than the first movie at co-writer George Lucas's request (reasoning that its tone should be similar to The Empire Strikes Back's more sombre second act of the trilogy), Temple of Doom was criticised at the time (and still is by Spielberg and other members of the cast and crew), but has over the years been accepted as a rip-roaring addition to the series.
Five years later Dr Jones was back once again, and this time he'd brought his dad in the shape of a man who knew a thing or two about action - former James Bond Sean Connery. Set two years after Raiders, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade saw the father and son team set off on one last adventure in search of the most holy of grails, the, err, Holy Grail. At the conclusion of the well received movie, Jones Jr and Sr, and their companions, ride off into the sunset, where they remained for 19 wonderful years.
If only Harrison Ford had taken Danny Glover's words to heart and decided that he was too old for this shit, then we'd have been spared the embarrassment that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Seemingly having forgotten to come up with a decent script while Messrs Lucas, Spielberg and Ford spent the best part of two decades trying to synchronise their busy schedules, this fourth entry in the Indiana Jones saga feels like a low budget mockbuster produced by infamous direct-to-video studio The Asylum, rather than the long awaited return of everybody's favourite fedora wearer (sorry, Freddy!)
A long time ago (well, 1977), in a theatre not that far away, a small space opera called Star Wars opened in a limited number of cinemas and proceeded to redefine the term blockbuster (not to mention the term 'merchandising rights', much to the delight of George Lucas). It had spaceships, it had blasters, it had magic (well, kind of) and it had the baddest bad guy since, well, possibly forever. It also had mass appeal and went on to gross more than double 20th Century Fox's previous record profits, doubling their share price in the process, while children all over the world recreated their favourite scenes with four-inch plastic figures.
Three years later the Empire struck back, wowing us all over again with AT-ATs, pint sized Jedi masters, running battles and lightsaber duels in a city in the clouds, and a darker tone than the original that had the audacity to leave us with a cliff-hanger ending. One the one hand this was frustrating, knowing that we had to wait until the third of a rumoured nine movies to find out what happened to Indiana Jones, sorry, Han Solo, but on the other hand it was brilliant because we knew we had at least one more film to look forward to (and possibly another six after that if the rumours of George Lucas's proposed nine film cycle that abounded at the time were true).
Three long years passed until finally, as promised, the Jedi returned (though sadly with Ewoks on Endor instead of the originally planned Wookiees on Kashyyyk), and we watched our heroes swash and buckle their way through the galaxy one final time before Darth Vader was finally redeemed and the evil Empire sent to its room without any supper.
All was well in the galaxy for 16 years, and the best space opera trilogy in the history of the universe seemed destined to remain so for all time. Until that is, we were introduced to Midi-chlorians, Mannequin Skywalker and Jar Jar Binks. I rest my case.
Even with these examples, and there are others – Die Hard, Friday The 13th, Final Destination, Lethal Weapon, and Romero's Dead trilogy to name but five – where three should have been the magic number, the industry can't leave trilogies alone, with planned fourth instalments to both the Scream and Bourne franchises. If only they would take some paraphrased advice from the Dark Lord of the Sith himself when eye-balling these potential travesties, and realise that 'the fourth is not strong with this one'.
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