Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Alternate Reality Sequel List

Have you ever noticed that there are some movies that you just want to pretend the sequels happened in an alternate reality? I don't mean that these sequels are don't wish that the film never had a sequel at all...again, necessarily...but you just want to say, "No, that's not what really happened after the end of that movie. That's a fun 'What if?' question. The real ending to the movie is inside my head."

Because believing these sequels to be "real" (if you'll grant me the idea that these movies have a reality to us, even though we know them to be fictional--they're not literally true, but they matter on an emotional level) changes our viewing of the original, spoiling them just a tad. Nobody can cheer for Ripley saving Newt at the end of 'Aliens' when they know she's just going to die off-camera before the next movie starts. So I think we're allowed to cut the sequels out of the world of the original, and restore the original's happy endings to their former glory by deciding the sequels don't "count" in the same way as the original film does.

I'll give a few examples...say, five?

5. Austin Powers. This is the perfect example, in some ways. It's not that the sequels were terrible (although 'The Spy Who Shagged Me' really was, honestly.) It's that the first movie ends with Austin coming to terms with the demise of the 60s culture he represented, growing as a person, and settling down with Vanessa, who had grown to accept him as well. The next movie then opens with her dying, and just expects the audience to be fine with that. And I guess I can be, so long as we accept that the sequels are all just some alternate-reality Austin who shrugs off his wife's death in seconds and goes on to have a string of meaningless relationships (and unfunny sequels.)

4. Ghostbusters. Here, the sequel isn't even that bad. (It's not that good, either, but it's not bad.) But the whole exciting triumph of the heroes from the first movie is given a sour, unpleasant tone when we find out they were blamed for saving the world, driven into bankruptcy, and went their separate ways. As a parallel universe, it works. As a continuation of the first movie, it fails.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark. It took Spielberg and Lucas twenty-seven years to figure out what movie audiences knew all along--Marion and Indy should have wound up together. (And they still didn't do a good job of showing it.) While the sequels and prequel have their merits, they're easier to watch if you just pretend they're fanciful "imaginary stories" and not continuations of the nigh-unto-perfect original film.

2. The Matrix. Arguably, the sequels don't even connect logically with the end of the original film; at the end of 'The Matrix', Neo has total, god-like control over the reality of the Matrix, and can alter it at will. In the next movie, he's a trench-coated Superman. Not only do you need to pretend the sequels happened in a parallel universe to make the original work, you need to imagine a wholly different original movie for the sequels to have a shot in hell of making sense.

1. Star Wars. This one might be a bit controversial, but I'm going to put it in, and here's why. When you watched the original 'Star Wars' movie, back before sequels and prequels and Expanded Universes and video games and metric tons of books, the world of 'Star Wars' existed entirely in your head. Every space in the film is filled in with your imagination--and part of the brilliance of the film is that there are so many spaces, so many clever hints at things that Lucas just leaves you to fill in yourself so that the world grows into you and you grow into it. The world of 'Star Wars' literally becomes a part of your imagination. Every kid in 1977 had a different idea of what the Clone Wars were, or how Darth Vader became evil, or how Luke's father died, or even just what those things in the cantina were called. And every movie, book, video game, and tie-in since then has replaced a bit of your imagination with someone else's. I want to be able to look at this movie and see it just for itself, to say, "No. It doesn't matter what someone else said, even if that someone else is George Lucas. This is what I think happened next."

Anyone got some of their own to add?


Michael Hoskin said...

Fans of classic film have pretty well roundly ignored the attempts to provide sequels to Gone With the Wind, Casablanca & Psycho.

Although it occurs in the middle of a series, Star Trek V is usually considered a non-entity by Trek fandom.

I haven't watched past Terminator 2 in that franchise - it seems to me that after T2 any attempt at a sequel would only be a retread of where the first two films had already gone.

And I submit that 2010 is an example of the reverse situation - I think it's had a bad rap and is actually superior to 2001.

Austin Gorton said...

I dunno...maybe I'm too anal-retentive, or too much of a rule follower, to embrace this concept.

To use your Star Wars example, sure, when I watched the movies as a kid I imagined what the deal with the Clone Wars was, but that was just my imagination. I wanted to know what "really" happened, even if "what really happened" hadn't been thought up yet.

Thus, even if the "official" version of events wasn't as good as what I came up with myself, that was what "really" happened, and to me, that "official-ness" overcompensated for any relative quality issues compared to what I imagined.

This might be why I've never written any fan fiction...anything I wrote wouldn't be "official"...

And yes, I have this same problem when it comes to comic books, and and I am pretty lame as result :)

Oddly enough, for some reason, I don't have this problem with Star Trek; there I just sort of cherry pick the continuity I like and ignore the stuff I don't. No idea why I can do it with that property and not something else...

Eryn Tzun said...

Highlander. The movie did not need a sequel. They got to the forth one and it felt like they just threw darts at different scripts, then mixed them together. If you're going to do a baton hand-off from movies to television, that is not the way to go. They're not the first to fumble that ball, the failure should have been foreseen with that mess. That's only a smidgen better than using the same script over again, as they did with the third movie. I rank it just under the stupidity of establishing a universe and then turning it on its ear for no reason. It's not broken, don't try to blend your old ideas with currently trendy ones.

I want to pretend the Highlander produces are not still out there. Waiting. Waiting for Scifi Channel to screw it up - as only they can - by adding their television movie mark to it. Waiting for us to forget so they can do a remake in 2010.
They keep reminding me, despite the fact that I don't even have cable tv, or turn on the television for anything other than news. Blasted RSS feeds.

The things I hate most about doing sequels are the bad hybrids. Like putting aliens or science in your fantasy a magic script. Most likely it wasn't needed, it confuses everyone new and satisfies no one who's returning to their beloved childhood favorite.

You got your X-files in my Indiana Jones! You got your peanut butter in my chocolate! Aargh! You got your explainable science my Jedi myth! If you put your time travel in my Buffy, I will end you.
Damn it.
[Eryn Puts on a bonnet and pulls out a gun.]

Some things will never taste great together, many people just have different tastes and will never agree what works for them in terms of simply a movie.

For all the generic predictability that is Stargate, at least the myth and science fiction elements are worked in together early on. The problem is that they really needed a television show to make it work best. They just need to stop beating their dead horse. They're taking the easy route, Paramount still isn't over that one now. I was hoping they were since even the Star Trek Experience is shutting down. They're resorting to Hollywood's other cop-out: Ret-con! Enterprise did not work, but that didn't stop them from doing a prequel to TOS.

Actually, it's TOS, so I don't actually care what they do to it.

Star Trek V and Highlander II don't exist - they were never made. You can't prove that anyone liked those movies, so they don't exist in our minds. The original Star Trek movie is a toss up of good and bad sides. Without it there would have been no Next Generation, but then they would have made Star Trek II: The TV Series. Uuugh! TNG Season 2 scripts. Double UGH!

Are there really any good sequels that deserved to be produced or spun-off? That could be a topic for another day.

John Seavey said...

I think you're dead-on about 'Highlander', but I'm not so sure about 'Star Trek V'. Because I'm not talking just about sequels that are bad, I'm talking about sequels that in some way change the viewing experience of the original. When you watch 'Star Trek V', sure, it sucks, but it doesn't actually make 'Star Trek II' worse. You don't think about it while you watch the other films.

Whereas 'Highlander', yes, when you watch the original, you can't help but think of all the dementedly bad directions that the franchise went from there. (Although I liked the TV series, but that openly admitted it was in an alternate reality. So it used my solution pre-emptively.)

'T3' would probably qualify in that same vein, in the sense that when you watch 'T2', you now know that their efforts to change the future were futile...but I actually liked that about the third film, so I don't generally include it. But I'm aware that others might feel differently.

Mory said...

Since everyone is bringing up Star Trek: I don't consider Enterprise to be canonical. The producers gave me some nice ammunition for that in the last episode, where it seems like the whole show could have actually been a holodeck program in the 24th century. So I say all of Enterprise is a bunch of Federation-propaganda holodeck stories passed off as real history. The real history of the Federation's founding was a lot less idealistic, a lot more messy, and a lot more interesting.

That's what I tell myself, and I hope some future Star Trek series has an episode about not trusting history books where they start to realize it's all fake.

But you seemed to be asking specifically about movies, so I have to say Back to the Future. When I see the end of that movie, I always pretend there were no sequels. It takes so much away from the ending to think that Biff turns evil again and the McFly family turns back into the mess it used to be. Not to mention the whole silly wild west thing.

Nope, didn't happen. They flew off into the sunset, and that's all there is to the story. The End.

Unknown said...

Aliens, of course. Touched on in the commentary, but still valid. Frankly, the Dark Horse comics with adult Newt and Hicks as the protagonists was MUCH better than Aliens3 & Resurrection.

We should also flip the question and mention things that are good as they are and shouldn't get sequels.

I'd argue, for example, that the reason that nearly 35 years later William Goldman still can't seem to finish Buttercup's Baby is that The Princess Bride is perfect as it sequel will live up to the original, so he may be best off if he just quits trying.

Michael Penkas said...

Nightmare on Elm Street. In the first movie, we have Freddy Krueger as a killer of children. That's all we know about him.

But with each sequel, we get more pieces of the back-story (the mother was a nun, he's the guardian of a dream gate, he was given his powers by three dream demons) and the character becomes less mysterious. It's not necessarily that the bits of origin were stupid; but he just worked better as a mysterious character who lurked in the shadows.

The same goes for Halloween and Friday the 13th. I've only seen the first two Saw movies; but I'm guessing that the Jigsaw Killer becomes less scary the more we find out about him as well.

Back to Highlander, I liked the fact that nobody knew why this was happening. Sometimes the mystery is just better.

John Seavey said...

It's funny you mention 'Nightmare on Elm Street', because the movie I've always wanted to do was a prequel. Get Robert Englund back without the make-up, cut out all the jokes and black comedy, and just turn it into this tense, psychological study of a serial killer's bloody swathe through a small town, and end it with his death.

...I'm off-topic in my own blog, aren't I?

Kyle White said...

While you make valid points about Star Wars, I feel that Empire was the superior film and added much more than it took away.

Kyle White said...

Oh, and The Godfather part III might affect my perceptions of I & II if I ever really thought about it. However, I like Coppola and Puzo's idea for IV to be another dual story, this time of Sonny and his bastard son (the Godfather after Michael). Puzo's death prevented that.

Anonymous said...

Pirates of the Caribbean - No logic or memory between the first movie and the second two.

Defeating Barbossa is cheapened by the fact that he's brought back to life anyways.

The Cursed Gold hangs heavy over the next two movies. If you knew you had to fight Davy Jones, would you go as yourself or as a skeleton pirate that can't die? Just go grab a gold piece, fight some pirates, win, and then return it.

Or, if you were part of the sinister East India Company and wanted to rule the ocean and end piracy, why not get a bunch of your loyal soldiers to steal some of the cursed gold, become skellie-redcoats, and storm through the pirate capitol killing everyone without worry of reprisal?

Anthony Strand said...

Eryn - Do not read the current Buffy Season 8 arc (written by Joss, even). They got time travel in your Buffy. I don't know if you were making a veiled reference to that or just didn't know, but anyway, there it is.

The best example I think of other than those already mentioned is a TV show - Veronica Mars. The first ends perfectly, beautifully. The other two are kind of ridiculous. Not bad, but season two got increasingly implausible as it went on, and 3 is just kind of there.

I like to imagine that Veronica only had to deal one murder as a teenager, not a string of them.

Suzene said...

Well said. This sort of pick-and-choose personal canon is the only way I can still enjoy some of my favorite TPBs from the old days; acknowledging the utter crap that some of the characters get put through under later writers is too much of a damper to contemplate.

Anonymous said...

I've always cleaved to the idea that I can pick how far I want to read/watch something. Whether by the original team or not, a sequel that betrays the characters or their sacrifice, is not something I'm interested in.

I agree with all your picks, and with the commenters' choices. I would add "Scream" to the list - the second and third parts really force the copycat killer idea and forget about the dark comedy.

Comic books can also suffer from this. I'm not opposed to change or growth, provided the change isn't just to negate what has gone before. Xorn-was-never-Magneto... what?

I haven't read "The Incredible Hulk" since Peter David's final issue of his original run: he'd said everything that needed to be said. I got rid of any issues of the old "Titans" title after the ludicrous shock tactics of "Titans Hunt" started: the book had lost its way, and the new direction betrayed the characters and their heroism.