Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Getting Past the Knee-Jerk Reaction

So, a few days ago I stumbled across this quick little post on io9.  It is just a little blurb announcing that the forthcoming fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series will not, in fact, be the last movie in the franchise.  Seems like Disney is gearing up to make a fifth and a sixth film as well, which it is looking to film simultaneously and then release as two films, similar to what it did with films two and three.

My instant, automatic, knee-jerk reaction to this news was "Oh God, why?"  But then something funny happened.  I started actually thinking about it and realized that, you know what, I am actually okay with this.  I love all three of the Pirates movies that we've had so far.  I am truly really looking forward to the fourth one.  I mean, come on, they're big epic set pieces with pretty boats and fantastic costumes.  Johnny Depp says and does many bizarre and often humorous things.  Orlando Bloom is pretty when he channels Errol Flynn.  I actually like Kiera Knightly, though I am not sure why.  Jack Davenport is all kinds of crazy awesome.  Plus, it's historical fiction, which I love.  Also, pirates.

Clearly, I am not alone in this, and there are many like-minded individuals out there, or Disney wouldn't be bothering.  These movies aren't exactly cheap to make.  I am not going to complain.  As long as these movies continue to entertain me, I will continue to go see them.  People who have not been entertained by previous films in the franchise, and expect to not be entertained by future films in the franchise should not go see them.  When people like that start to outnumber people like me, it seems pretty self-explanatory that Disney will stop making these movies. 

But that's not really the point of this post.  The internet is already undergoing a mild explosion at the news (heck, just check the comments thread on the post I linked to above for all of the negativity spewing forth from people who had the same knee-jerk reaction I initially had).  I will leave that be.  There's nothing I can do or say to stop it, so it seems silly to comment further on it.

Why do we, the public, get so darn offended when one movie turns into two, or three, or more?

Seriously, give it a moment to kick around in your brain.  These days, whenever a sequel is made, unless it is an adaptation of, say, a preexisting book series where we know we've signed on for several films to tell the story, there is almost always a huge public cry of indignation and outrage.  Sure, it is likely that a continuation of a story may be unnecessary, but unnecessary doesn't always equal bad.  Just because one story in a particular world was told satisfactorily, that doesn't mean that there aren't more stories from that world to be told.

These are the main objections I tend to see to the continuation of a movie franchise:

1)  The studio is just trying to milk as much money out of us as possible!

Well, duh.  I am completely over this complaint.  I am sick of it.  Done.  The movie industry is just that, an industry.  It is completely, utterly, and totally about making money.  They are trying to sell a product that they think we, the public, not only want, but will give them money to see.  Every once in a while, a big budget film is made that turns out to be art, but that really isn't the goal.  When it happens, it is an unexpected, if delightful, side-effect, but side-effect it is.  If you want to see art when you go to the movies, move to a town where you have access to an arthouse cinema.  Otherwise, understand that what you are getting when you go to see a movie is a product, designed to be sold to the masses.

If enough people enjoyed the original film, there's a good possibility there is a market for more in that franchise.  Sometimes, a story for a completely new and spectacular thing gets pitched, and the studio loves it but isn't sure that we'll bite.  But they look at it and think that it might work as a story set in an existing franchise, and so it gets made as a sequel instead of its own story.  Yeah, okay, this is a little insulting.  But apparently the studios are scared to make movies these days if they aren't 100% sure they will sell.  Nine times out of ten, that means they are going with the known quantity over the unknown.  It sucks, but it is the system.  You know it is the system.  If you keep supporting that system by going to see the stuff that they give you, then your soapbox for this particular issue is pretty much nonexistent.  There are two ways to fight the system:  Don't go see the big-budgeted mass-market films you think are crap, and do everything you can to support the unique, independent, truly different films that do manage to get made.  Griping on the internet is gonna do diddly squat though.

2)  This just shows that there are no original ideas left in Hollywood anymore!

Okay, look. I am not going to deny the veracity of that statement.  But if my choices are a new story set in an existing franchise or a remake of a movie that I still clearly remember seeing in theaters at some point in my lifetime (dude, I'm only 30, that's not a huge catalog), well, I am definitely going to take the former.  I can get behind extending one movie into a series of movies.  The remakes still give me the heebie jeebies unless they are done well and a significant period of time has passed between the original and the new one.  Very very few remakes fall into either one of those categories, and so, I don't go see them unless I have a compelling reason to do otherwise.

Also, as I noted above, there are plenty of "new" story ideas being pitched all of the time, it's just that right now new=scary to movie studio execs, so those movies are not getting made.  This is sad, but unlikely to change in the current economy.  Also, honestly, there really are very few actual new ideas left on this earth.  We as a species have been telling each other stories for thousands of years now.  At this point, we're just getting variations on a theme.  What we're asking for when we want "new" movies is a really cool variation that is unlike those that have come before. 

If I would be forced to answer my own question, I would say that the reason people get so upset about a movie becoming a franchise is that a) the follow-up movies aren't any good, and b) the follow-up movies somehow diminish their enjoyment of the first.

Granted, often, the first part of this claim is right.  Just because Hollywood is embracing the idea of series over one-shots doesn't mean they have actually figured out how to pull it off.  If you didn't like the sequel to a beloved movie, I can see being irritated that you wasted your money on seeing it in theaters.  But...that's not the kind of grudge a person really needs to hold on to for more than a day or so, is it?  After that, your trust has been lost.  There's no point in getting angry about future movies in the franchise.  Just don't go see them.  Then the only thing about those you have to worry about is the marketing campaign, which, honestly, should be pretty easy to ignore assuming you are capable of turning off your television/radio, changing the channel, not surfing a website you know will be taking about the movie, deciding not to look at a billboard or other print ad, etc.

The second part of that answer, though, that's just bull.  I am sorry, but if you liked the first movie, you liked it.  The second, third, whatever movies in that franchise are separate entities.  You can completely ignore the fact that they exist and just watch the first one over and over at your leisure.  If seeing the second one points out huge plot holes you didn't know existed in the first one, well, that sucks, but those plot holes were still there when you watched the movie and liked it the first time around.  Chances are you would have noticed them eventually.  I know I've addressed this specific topic before, about a sequel's actual inability to lessen your enjoyment of whatever it is a sequel to, so I won't get into it too much here.  It just baffles and saddens me, and I think people who use this as an excuse are just looking for a reason to be angry.  And honestly, if that's the case, that's a whole different set of problems that need to be addressed.  Let's not blame the movies, okay?

What strikes me as so odd about this regular reaction to a movie turning into a series of movies is that it is pretty much the exact opposite of the way things work in the book world.  There are plenty of stand-alone one-shot books out there, certainly.  But there are tons of series, and no one seems to bat an eye if one book turns into a trilogy or if a planned trilogy turns into an eight book run.  People often, in fact, seem to beg for them to do so. 

Maybe this is just me, and maybe this is why I have less of a problem with the movie conundrum than others, but I love book series.  Most of the books I read are series.  Sure, a one-shot or even a trilogy is easier to get into further on down the line, and with an extended series, you run the risk of never finding out how the story ends.  But with the really good series, each book is a stand-alone tale.  There should be an overarching story arc, sure (one that lasts for just a few books or for the entire series), and the stories should all be about the same person/group of people or at least set in the same universe.  This way they can tie together and fit under the umbrella of a series.  I think what I enjoy most about these is that when I pick up a new book in a series I am already invested in the world I am diving into.  There is less for me to figure out, and so I can enjoy the details more and jump right into the action of the story.  I don't have to wonder why this character is doing X while that one is doing Y, because that is just how I would expect those people to behave.  It is lovely.  Upon reflection, I am sure this is why I have gotten so much more into television series than movies over the last few years. I don't think it is a bad thing for movies to take advantage of this formula. 

I guess maybe the better question here would be:  Why do people get so emotionally involved in movies that they let themselves get so worked up about more of the same being made?  I mean, really, if a movie comes out that you don't want to see, don't get mad that it got made instead of, possibly, something that you did want to see.  Just don't go see it.  Instead, go watch the movie you did enjoy again.  Or pick up a book, or watch a television show.  Heck, go for a walk outside and enjoy reality for a bit.  There's plenty of originality there, I guarantee you.

Me, well, now that I've realized I have this knee-jerk reaction, I know that I need to work on getting past it.  If enough of us can do that, then I think the world will be a much better place.  Full of loads of second-rate movie sequels and series, maybe, but also full of happier people.  I'll take the first any day if it means I can have the second.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I understand, even though I'm prone to have those same reactions. In the end, I guess the Buddhist approach is best...let it be and move on. I wish some more of the series I love WOULD become shows, though.