Sequelitis

I’ve just returned from seeing Love Never Dies – the Sydney production of the negatively-critiqued Phantom of the Opera sequel. While the visuals of the performance were exceptional, and quite a few good songs were thrust upon our ears, the plot itself – dealing with character derailment, a psychotic ingenue and the Phantom opening a motherfucking amusement park on Coney Island – was absolutely ridiculous.

Phantom was an exceptional musical and theatrical masterpiece; while I’ve never seen the production live I have watched the movie and listened to the original Australian cast recording countless times. It’s a seminal work that was self-contained, masterfully adapted and gave a very satisfying conclusion. So when I heard Love was in development, I couldn’t help but feel they were needlessly adding elements to a story that works quite fine on its own and that any further progression of the plot would do nothing but diminish the quality of the original work.

Turns out I was absolutely right.

Too often in today’s entertainment industry we have rampant cases of sequelitis – coined from the wonderful TvTropes website – in regards to further installments that are unnecessary or poorly executed. In the last year alone we’ve had such mediocre endeavours as Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Cars 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record and The Hangover Part II, and of the top ten highest grossing films of 2011 only one film – The Smurfs, coming in at number 9 – was not a sequel, and even then it was still part of a long-running franchise. And don’t even get me started on Star Wars‘s extraneous genitalia.

In poorly-handled cases sequels sit just above remakes and just below failed reboots in terms of low-quality, unimaginative dross. It’s true that a lot of my favourite movies, books and games are sequels but these are the minor examples; the majority of later installments to a franchise only serves to make the original look either unfinished or as nothing more than a jumping off point for cash cow stories. It seems that these days Hollywood and its other entertainment equivalents are more keen to flog dead horses than find innovation or start new stories because of those starry dollar-signs in their eyes, and its only occurring to the detriment of widely-beloved classics. Right now it seems the only stories that are guaranteed to be safe from direct sequelitis are those from Shakespeare, but even his opus’ have been bastardised into flimsy TV shows. I’m looking at you, 10 Things.

Love Never Dies was, story-wise, completely unnecessary. The upcoming sequels in the new Pirates trilogy will be just as vestigial as On Stranger Tides. The myriad Dune tie-ins that Frank Herbert’s son has been writing for years are like paperback appendixes. And as much as I love his films, I can only approach Tarantino’s Kill Bill 3 very trepidatiously.

A sequel only works if it’s meant as a true, faithful and necessary continuation of a story. This is why I have so much respect for filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and writers like Richard Morgan, drawing lines under the likes of Batman and Kovacs’ stories to offer definitive conclusions. Not that it’ll stop the uncreative fatcats from exhuming their corpses when the heroin runs out.

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