Thursday, 24 May 2012

Immediate Sequels and the Organic Follow-Up

If you go back far enough through three (now) mega-stars of comedy, you’ll find the movie “Anchorman” on all of their resumes. It was the giant breakthrough for Will Farrell, Paul Rudd and Steve Carell. Before that, you would have only known them in indie films, off-Broadway theatre or Saturday Night Live. Then Anchorman came along, with its Apatow sense of humor, ridiculous performances, and all the while never winking at the camera. Afterwards, Farrell, Rudd and Carell all became super-stars.

Anchorman launched the Apatow-comedy film movement. So, why is it, that after almost a decade, the sequel is finally announced? You would think, with all the immediate sequels that pop-up after even semi-successful movies open in theatres, Anchorman 2 would have come out at the very latest in 2008. Yet, all we heard through the studio grapevine was “delay this” or “not enough of an audience” that.

Then about a month ago, on Conan, Ron Burgundy (Will Farrell in character) came on in a surprise appearance to announce that the studio and the creative team had finally come to terms on a sequel for Anchorman. Just this past weekend, the first teaser came out and spread like wild-fire across the internet. Everyone I know is pumped for this movie. Over the moon excited for it. And they haven’t even started shooting yet.

All this got me thinking. In an age where we constantly hear about scripts being developed for sequels of movies that haven’t even come out yet, I find myself puzzled at what took them so long at Paramount to green-light one of the biggest comedies of my generation? However, at the same time, I'm also glad they didn’t. Why? This is the perfect time for an Anchorman sequel. So, my question is, when is it exactly right for a sequel to come out?

As I said before, it seems the recent thought process for studios is to get the sequel in development before the first movie has even come out (and we thought studios were being more careful). The new Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, already has a script in the works for a sequel. This is baffling to almost everyone on the planet since the buzz around this movie is not good. I don’t know many people that are looking forward to this movie. Another studio took this route with a would-be franchise: Green Lantern. We all saw how that turned out. This is a pretty glaring sign that the studios are just waiting for that opening weekend box-office number.

On the other hand, let’s say it’s smart to just go straight into another one, right away, even before you get the long lasting effects of the movie. Look at Transformers. That movie really took people by surprise at how solid it was, especially coming from Michael Bay. Yes, of course it had its detractors, but nothing on the lines of what was to come. That film series started with huge success based on a cool idea, amazing CGI and, funny enough, a well told story. It’s pure popcorn fun – maybe a bit too silly at times, but a solid summer movie. So of course people wanted a sequel. It was a no brainer. In hindsight, you can really see where it went wrong for the series. Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen was victim to the writer’s strike of 2008. It’s pretty much a half-baked movie and a total mess. It was rushed. Even without the writer’s strike, the gap between the first two films was only two years. That’s a blink of an eye for a movie of this size. I’m surprised they even got it done (and some of you will argue that it isn’t a finished movie).

Michael Bay went even further and made the third entry with only a two year break between Revenge. That’s 2007, 2009, 2011 as release dates. All in the summer. That’s tough. Say he started development in 2005, that’s six years of just robots. He clearly needed more time. So did we. We were over-exposed to these films. They were just too much too fast. If they had been spread out by three years instead of two, we would instead have been waiting for Transformers 3 to come out next summer. Ample time to breathe and enjoy the movies.

If Bay had another year, maybe he would have axed these bad ideas.

Which brings me to my next observation: the filmmaker. I feel they need to break off from the franchise and should make a different type of movie in between their sequels/entries. A director, as well as the audience, needs to grow and evolve between the entries.

While it’s hard to compare Christopher Nolan and Michael Bay (maybe even sacrilegious), it’s interesting to see how Nolan as a story teller has evolved by doing The Prestige and Inception while also going back to his Batman franchise. There is clearly a more mature and developed director behind the camera each time he goes to a new film. That’s because he keeps things fresh. I wonder how different things would have turned out had Michael made his pet project Pain and Gain or another original project in between his robot films.

All the while, maybe the director or a creative team shouldn’t be the main force behind when a sequel gets made. Maybe it should be the audience. But we are just as unpredictable as the studios claim us to be. Using myself as an example, I love it when a film series takes a while in between its entries. The idea of waiting four years for The Dark Knight Rises and the new Star Trek film just feels right to me. Many disagree, especially with the former example, as they have seemed to move on to more current franchises (The Marvel movies). To their benefit, I am reminded by times when sequels waited too long to follow up its predecessor, and not only was it not worth the wait, you actually question why you liked the franchise in the first place. Look no further than Indiana Jones 4.

Perhaps the only way to be certain that a sequel will both be anticipated and accepted with excitement is by going the “Lord Of The Rings” route. If you tell the audience it’s going to be three movies, one each year for three years, we will buy into that and go on the adventure with you. We sign the contract and know what we are in for. It’s the same situation with Harry Potter. If you’re going to watch the movies, you first must accept that the story will be eight movies long, spread out over a decade.

Alas, not everything can be set out like the Lord Of The Rings or Twilight. Perhaps all you need to do is tell a good introductory story and let people know that there’s more to come. In this way, we will organically want more. However, it will always remain a somewhat mystery to when we should be given more. There’s just too many variables to really nail it down. Just ask Francis Ford Coppola. He directed two of the greatest films ever, Godfather 1 and 2, in 1972 and 1974 respectively. An amazing one-two punch of storytelling power. It had lots going for it. It’s based off a book series. They’re only two years apart, and Francis still made a movie in between, The Conversation. It won Oscars. People loved it. Then 18 years later he comes out with The Godfather Part III, which was set many years later. Not only does the film not live up to the hype, it’s a disappointment.

Looking back, is the movie that bad? Not really. But it’s nothing like the first two. Even though you can see, Coppola has something to say, it just didn’t connect with people anymore.

After all that, I really don’t have an answer to when a sequel should be made. Obviously some are too soon, and some are too late. You always hear people saying “strike while the iron is hot”. Then you look at something like Anchorman 2 and while it might not have been planned, it really served the studio and everyone involved to wait till the iron cooled, almost to point of it never happening again, before giving the Channel 5 news team another go around. While it’s clearly a result of a studio not trusting the size of its audience, they did fall into a money pit by accident.

Here you have three of the biggest comedy stars on the planet, all enthusiastic about coming back to the characters that gave them super-stardom, all willing to take pay cuts. Which is incredible since they all headline their own movies now. An audience would never want to see a sequel without the full cast or god forbid, with replacements. The director of the original, Adam Mckay, has gone off and done other comedies with Farrell and is returning. And the audience for this only continues to expand.

Now with it officially being announced and the teaser getting everyone excited to a fever pitch, you realize that this is the equivalent of a “getting the band back together” type of a reunion. It’s almost a super-comedy movie in line with The Avengers. Alright, maybe not that big, but the idea of seeing Will Farrell, Paul Rudd and Steve Carell on screen at the same time in 2004 was nothing special. Now, in 2013, it feels like the can’t miss reunion tour of the summer. Something that can only happen when given the right amount of time to grow.

They reunite, summer 2013.

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