Are we all too used to a diet of sequel after sequel? New D+CFilm columnist Bideford’s James Walkerdine takes a look at the franchise of film
Sequels and film franchises are a curious notion of Hollywood cinema, for it always seems that one is never enough and less is never more. The next sequel in a cinematic saga persistently seeks to upstage and outdo the one that precedes it, leaving you overwhelmed and mentally exhausted from the blast to the face by the fire-hose of special effects and mindless action.
Think of the following two franchises: Alien and Superman. In both films we have one villain, the single alien and Lex Luthor, and most of the action sequences take place in one location, or set-piece if you will: The Nostromo in Alien and Metropolis in Superman. However, in Aliens and Superman II, there are multiple villains in both, and the action occurs over numerous set-pieces. The Alien franchise is a more curious example, as not only are there more villains, but more good guys too. Ultimately this equates to more guns, more action and more special effects. Thus outdoing the film that precedes it and making it more of a spectacle.
-A sorry state of affairs â€“
Here’s another, albeit much worse, franchise that we’re currently in the midst of -the cringe-worthy, shield-your-eyes-but-keep-them-open-because-you-might-miss-a-bit, Saw films. To date, there have been six of them and with a seventh currently being filmed and set for release later this year, it seems as if the notion of ‘out-doing’ the preceding film is still as valid as ever, possibly even more relevant given the current economic climate. What is also interesting about them is that this notion of upstaging has developed into not only more characters, more set-pieces but into areas of narrative and plot and also into a development of technologies -SAW VII is apparently going to be a 3D affair, which I feel is the ultimate way to outdo a predecessor: literally go into another dimension.
Saw (the first one) was, in my opinion, quite a genuinely intriguing homage to horror films created during the 1970s and 80s by filmmakers such as John Carpenter and Wes Craven, simply because it was a low-budget, well-plotted and nasty film which had no genuine conclusion or resolution at the end. Saw II on the other hand, seemed to jolt the franchise well into the 21st century very quickly and it had such a different tone about it: the tone, style and undeveloped dialogue made it feel much more like Eli Roth’s films, rather than any credible work made before it. But, importantly, it did follow the trend and fashion of upstaging its predecessor, Saw: it had many more characters; lots more plot twists and much more gruesome deaths. And so it went for another agonising four films.
-Narrative frustrations â€“
In regards to narrative, what really irritates to me about these films is that they don’t seem to know themselves whether another film will be made afterwards, so a particularly frustrating element that becomes clear after watching several films, is that the narratives seem to tie themselves up slightly at the close (the tying is achieved somewhat quickly, often within the last 20 minutes of screen time) and then it is untied at the start of the next film.
Something which you may also notice occurs a lot in Hollywood’s other hacky film franchises, such as the Terminator saga. This kind of tying and retying was never really apparent in older franchises, such as the Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween films and it really is a shame that filmmakers seem to have reached a crossroads like this, whereby the story is left open and they hope next film gets picked up, or the alternative which is that they have to patronise their audiences to such a degree, as to alter narrative structure like we’ve seen here.
However, for all the complaints, you have to take your hat off to them -they are undoubtedly well plotted and constructed -layers upon layers of twists which, although nauseating and genuinely complicated to follow, are admirable in such a mainstream series of films.
-Are we lazy audiences? â€“
What I admire and paradoxically get frustrated by, is that how audiences are now built-in for these franchises: studio executives know this, and that’s how these films get made. We’ve somehow ended up in a filmmaking climate whereby the attitude is not, ‘What can we make that’s original?’, but rather it seems as if studios are thinking ‘Well, that worked two years ago, shall we make another?’, or, ‘That worked and made money in that country, let’s remake it here’. It truly is a shame that we’re reliant on franchises to make us go to the cinema, but from a productive perspective, they’re cheap to make, cheap to distribute and people will churn out in the millions to see someone remove their own limbs because of their own moralistic choices.
Sadly, I believe that we, as an audience, don’t know what we want to see anymore and we don’t know how to spend our precious £6.50. Are we willing to take a chance on a smaller, more independent film that we’ve never heard of, or are we going to go choose the next Saw film? Something which we know before going into the theatre, will contain lots of blood, guts and dismembered body parts. The answer, unfortunately, lies with the latter option.