The death of originality

Last updated 12:09 21/02/2011

Scream4It's a truth universally acknowledged that they don't make 'em like they used to.

And never has that been more true than in the modern era of movie sequels upon movie trequels, where it's nigh on impossible to get a movie off the ground if there's not at least a prior comic book, TV show, cartoon, and/or toy to hitch it on - preferably from the 80s.

Here's an alarming excerpt from a rather scathing article, titled optimistically The Day the Movies Died, moaning about how Hollywood is ignoring the success of something original like Chris Nolan's Inception in favour of more of the same pabulum (footnotes below, detailing exactly which future flicks the author is referring to):

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"...Let's look ahead to what's on the menu for this year: four adaptations of comic books. One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book. One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy. One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement-park ride. One prequel to a remake. Two sequels to cartoons. One sequel to a comedy. An adaptation of a children's book. An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon. One sequel with a 4 in the title. Two sequels with a 5 in the title. One sequel that, if it were inclined to use numbers, would have to have a 7-1/2 in the title.*

And no Inception. Now, to be fair, in modern Hollywood, it usually takes two years, not one, for an idea to make its way through the alimentary canal of the system and onto multiplex screens, so we should really be looking at summer 2012 to see the fruit of Nolan's success. So here's what's on tap two summers from now: an adaptation of a comic book. A reboot of an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a sequel to an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a TV show. A sequel to a sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a young-adult novel.**"

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Recently, I've noticed how, rather than what was a film like, people often ask me how dreadful a particular film was. Often with ghoulish anticipation/fascination. Especially when it comes to films titled something like: Big Momma's House: Like Father Like Son. (And frankly, if you choose to spend your money on a movie with a title like that, I'm sure you've long since stopped reading by now. Especially when I started using long words.)

For those who like to visualise these things in hard-to-read chart form, here's a geeky graph showing which sequels were deemed better than the originals.

What the hell is going on in a world where not only are we, the movie-going public, fed predictable rubbish, we (more often than not) lap it up? Is it safe for Hollywood to assume the ongoing supply of gormless teenage boys willing to watch any old crap as long as it has some cool explosions?

Sure, there may be a few token good sequels in the universe (Godfather 2, Toy Story 3) but really, it's enough to make you want to Scream(4)!

Busted3*Captain America, Cowboys & Aliens, Green Lantern, and Thor; X-Men: First Class; Transformers 3; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; Rise of the Apes; Cars 2 and Kung Fu Panda 2; The Hangover Part II; Winnie the Pooh; The Smurfs in 3D; Spy Kids 4; Fast Five and Final Destination 5; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

**The Avengers; Spider-Man (3D); Men in Black 3 (3D); Star Trek untitled; Batman 3; Monsters, Inc. 2; Madagascar 3; Ice Age: Continental Drift in 3D; The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2.

44 comments
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Jonno   #1   12:31 pm Feb 21 2011

Has anyone noticed that all this seems to coincide with the rise in story-overwhelming computer graphics and special effects in the last 15 years? In other words Hollywood feels it can make any old crap as long as it is presented in new technology. Something like, "Now showing at a cinema near you, Totally predictable, derivative dross, now in 3D." 3D, it seems, is the new vehicle in which to pump out new old rubbish, drown bad story lines and disguise boring scenery with wizz-bang effects.

His Lordship   #2   12:43 pm Feb 21 2011

This sort of thing has been going on since at least the 80s and the rise of merchandising (I'm looking at you, Lucas!)

Just be thankful that it didn't happen very often in the old days. "Casablanca 4: Playing It Again" or "Citizen Kane 3: Rosebud Returns" anyone?

Rach   #3   12:58 pm Feb 21 2011

Ten years ago I was spending my meagre earnings on a trip to the movies at least once, maybe twice a week. The last movie I saw was Harry Potter, and before that, Inception. Could probably count how many movies I saw last year on one had. And this year? Zilch so far.

MRG   #4   12:59 pm Feb 21 2011

And they wonder why box office takings are down, and DVD sales are down.

Sure piracy has to take some of the blame - but so do the studious for pumping this dross out.

The gaming industry is suffering from the same problem as well.

Max   #5   01:04 pm Feb 21 2011

Actually, Inception might have taken influence from the likes of Paprika.

JeM   #6   01:27 pm Feb 21 2011

Who on earth thought that another Big Momma's house would make any money? Who will actually go and see that at the movies? Who are the people who will buy that on DVD?

Movie remakes of books are all good by me. But I am over sequels and prequels to movies. I'll take a second movie, but 3 or more and I am not going to bother - with the exception of movies based on books that have amazing sequels.

Brad   #7   01:33 pm Feb 21 2011

@ His Lordship #2. LOL

Nicole   #8   01:44 pm Feb 21 2011

I guess people don't like to have to think. Look at all the moaning about Black Swan. I loved it but it was just too darn "intellectual' for some.

costa Botes   #9   01:47 pm Feb 21 2011

Corporatisation favours recycling of the predictable and familiar. All the Hollywood majors are small cogs in corporate machines. When it used to be about show business, there was still some connection to the idea of surprising an audience and making an emotional connection. Now it's just about the size of the opening weekend. The consumer continues to exert an influence by picking films that do surprise, and do make an emotional connection; but the business keeps trying to squash such discretion, forcing on us a limited ability to choose between increasingly homogenous offerings. Yes, they really did make them better in the old days.

Scott C   #10   01:52 pm Feb 21 2011

Nice timing - I had just finished typing up a post (somewhere else) on the same issue in gaming...

To me a lot of this comes from an accounts approach to artistic endevours - in that risk minimisation becomes paramount (no pun intended) when these large sums of money are involved and those who hold the purse strings choose the safe, low return option over the high risk high return option. This provides the companies involved with a good business strategy but the consumers with less than challenging results.

I guess you can't blame the accountants for doing what they're paid to do - but like any publishing industry it isn't scalable and if you want the big returns you actually have to place some portion of your capital into high risk / high payoff ventures. It doesn't help that the movie industry (like books and music) is a winner takes all scenario - in that 90% of the profit is derived from about 10% (or less) of the total output (look up total sales revenue in book publishing for a year, find out the total number of books published that year and work out what proportion of that total earning was made by the 10 top sellers - it'll amaze, or sicken you).

Why do we end up with all these sequels? It's financially prudent - which is good for the companies but not so good for us consumers. Some of the best earners are those low budget productions which get absorbed into the mainstream - personal favorites of mine would be "Primer" and "The Man From Earth".


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