Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Power of Three

Summer is the time when movie theaters are infested with mindless films with tons of special effects and not a whole lot of plot. But this year, as I'm sure everyone has noticed, there seems to be a glutton of 3rds: Oceans 13, The Bourne Ultimatum, Shrek the Third, and, what Nicole and I recently went to see, Pirates of the Caribbean 3. I hadn't seen the first two so, being who I am, spent the previous evening catching up on my pirate viewing.

The first one was fantastic, but when I got to the second one, I was pretty disappointed. I know I should have expected it, when it comes to movies they usually get worse with each one. But the first one was so good that I was hopeful, and wrongfully so. First, if you hadn't seen the previous film, you'd be totally lost. They did little to no character development or explanation, not even a hint of what had happened to the characters previously. Not only had I just watched the first in the series less than an hour ago, but when it comes to movies, I'm very good at following along, and I was confused. I kept poking Nicole, "Who's that again? Why do they want that? What's going on?" But she didn't have the answers either.

So despite the shortcomings of the second, we still went to the theater to see the third and as expected, I was even more confused. No character development, overly dramatic scenes that bordered on corny, and the film itself was entirely too long. What a waste of eight bucks.

But this got me thinking. As a reader, I LOVE series. Harry Bosch, John Rain, Jack Reacher, Kenzie and Genaro, all great characters that I can't get enough of. And while I of course started at the beginning with each of these characters, I believe that a reader can pick up a book anywhere in the series and not be confused. The authors give enough character development so new readers know who these people are, but they aren't redundant enough to bore the veterans. Furthermore, the characters change over time. At the end of each book, the protagonist is changed in some way and therefore different in the beginning of the next in the series. In pirates, the characters didn't change much and if they did, it was sudden. We didn't see it build.

So why is it that books do it so well and movies continue to fail time and time again? Is it the industry? The audience? The screenwriters? I believe it is a combination of all.

First, I don't think that movie producers know when to quit. They see a movie that pulled in a ton of money at the box office and think, "We should do that again!" Lehane knew when it was time to retire Kenzie and Genaro. Connelly took a few breaks from Harry Bosch. Child created Reacher in such a way, that he may never run out of ways to get into trouble. Furthermore, I believe movie producers don't recreate characters, they recreate concepts. Just look at Speed or The Mighty Ducks or The Matrix.

Also, it's the writing. Screenwriters have about a third of the pages novelists have. They need to get in and get out. When words are taken away, when scenes have to be cut, what goes? Right, the character studies. Why would you cut a high packed action sequence (never mind that it's doing nothing for overall plot)? Books take a lot more time to build the world of the story, time that movies don't have.

Lastly, I do believe it's the audience, especially when it comes to action movies. People want to see high speed car chases, explosions, not what a character is feeling. To me, in books, the emotional factors make the action scenes all the more effective. When the stakes are high, both physically and emotionally, the scene is completely gripping. But, like in Pirates 3, if I don't care about the characters, I don't really care if they live or die.

If anyone knows of a movie sequel that was just as good, if not better than the first, please do let me know. Kill Bill doesn't count since, to my knowledge, it was originally meant to be one long movie. Otherwise, I'll stick to reading my series characters and avoid them in the theaters.


Quinn said...

Yeah, writing a novel when you're used to writing for the screen is an amazing rush of freedom (at least at first). You can linger over anything you please if you feel it will add the story, and you never need worry about budget constraints. I'm trying to write a screenplay for Script Frenzy this month (a companion to NaNoWriMo), and I'm finding it significantly more difficult, even though the word count goal is far less.

Some sequels that bested the originals, in my opinion: Terminator 2, Toy Story 2, The Empire Strikes Back, Superman 2. I'm told the same goes for Aliens and The Godfather Part 2, but I can't speak from experience. Also, I'd argue that Back to the Future 2 was as good as the first, but not better.

Brian said...

Godfather 2. Greatest sequal of all time.

Plus The Empire Strikes Back was a better movie then Star Wars

Ronni said...

Great post! Very insightful, and, in my opinion, right on the money.

Rob said...

The second Spider-Man movie was better than the first. The third, however, sucked rocks. The original Star Wars trilogy stayed pretty consistent, with the second the best of the three. The "prequels," however, sucked rocks. The second X-Men movie was better than the first, but the third one...well, you get the picture.

Dana Kaye said...

Yes, I did completely forget about the Godfather. But again, it was based on a book...

And sorry, I couldn't stand the Spiderman movies. I loved the comics, probably read every single one growing up, but the movies didn't do anything for me.

Marcus Sakey said...

It's interesting to me that TV can actually do this quite well. HBO remains the best example: The Sopranos, Rome, The Wire, all feature fully-fleshed characters that evolve over time. To me, that suggests that the space considerations are probably the biggest reasons.

Christa M. Miller said...

All the sequels I can think of that were OK changed something drastically to make the sequel fresh. If you have a sequel in which the characters and even the plot are essentially the same (the Bourne franchise, etc.), the movie *probably* won't be as good. Except for the last two Jaws movies, which changed everything yet utterly sucked!

One recent sequel I absolutely loved, BTW - 28 Weeks Later. Managed to pick up where 28 Days Later left off, without ripping it off.