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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Three Types of Sequels

Reviewing Futureworld (’76) got me to thinking about Sequels and their structure. Before embarking on the sci-fi films of 1977, which contained the ÜberSeed of Sequels: Star Wars, it seemed like a good time to look at Sequels as a literary device. Until Star Wars, sci-fi sequels were rather rare. Some remakes (or cheap knock-offs) were made, but few real sequels.

The literary device of The Sequel is far older than motion pictures. Novels had sequels for hundreds of years before film ever existed. Just to cite one example, Daniel Defoe wrote his popular “Robinson Crusoe” in 1719 and quickly followed it up with a sequel, “The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.” So, it is little surprise that as soon as people began making movies, there were movie sequels. Unfortunately, sequels have usually been mediocre, at best. Defoe’s “Further Adventures…” novel was far less popular than his original.

There are several lists out there that try to categorize the types of sequels. Seven seems to be a popular number, for some reason, but the various list makers do not agree on what the seven are. Beyond that, most lists contain subtle variations on a trait, rather than actual separate types.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that there are basically really only THREE main types of Sequel.
1. The Continuation
2. The Repeat
3. In-Name-Only

There can seem to be more “types” of sequels because within each basic type, as there are stronger and weaker examples. Variations in degree aren't really separate types. And, there are commonly hybrids: such as a story that purports to continue the first film’s story line (Type 1), but essentially just repeats the formula of the first (Type 2). Since the goal of a sequel is to give audiences more of what they liked before, there is necessarily some repetition. How and What get repeated is what marks the types.

Type 1 Sequels — The Continuation
The essential feature, is that the sequel’s story continues from the first film. It may pick up the story immediately after the first film ended, or years later. It may involve the same characters from the first film, or perhaps only a few. The story might pick up with descendants. Think “Son of…”. The story, events, setting and/or situation in the second film logically depend on what happened in the first film. If someone died in the first film, they cannot suddenly be alive again. If a couple got married at the end of the first film, they cannot go out on a first date again, etc. The story line of the second film is chronologically linked to the first, such that events in the second story depend on things that were done in the first. Prequels and parallel stories will fit into Type 1, in that the “universe” of the original film’s story line is upheld.

In a Strong Type 1 Sequel, the same characters pick up the story where the first film left off. A good example of a Strong Type 1 Sequel is The Bride of Frankenstein (’35). The same Dr. Frankenstein, and the same monster (both played by the same actors). The story picks up at the smoldering ruins of the windmill that was ablaze at the end of the first film. The story is only moderately a repeat of man-makes-monster, but is taken up a notch, making a mate. Another example is War of the Colossal Beast(’58), picking up where The Amazing Colossal Man (’57) left off. It is strong in that it does not repeat the original story, but does something new with the situation from the first film. By the way, the terms of “strong” and “weak” do not relate to quality of production. One can have a poorly made “strong” Type 1 Sequel. Bride of…, mentioned above, is a much better film than War of… was, even though both are Strong Type 1s.

Moderate Type 1 Sequels reuse at least one of the original characters (not just the actor) — often the hero, but they usually have an almost all-new cast. The story line is less connected to, or dependent on the first film, though it won’t contradict the first. An example of a moderate Type 1 would be Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (’43). The monster is the only original character to return. Elsa is a descendant of Dr. Frankenstein, but was not a character in the prior films. The story only lightly relies on the prior films as foundation. (i.e. Elsa’s father created the monster.) Futureworld (’77) is a Moderate Type 1, in that it did rely upon the story of the first film (Westworld), and at least kept one character — even if just in a cameo dream sequence.

Weak Type 1 Sequels typically have new characters, still with some tangental connection to the original characters. but the story has almost nothing to do with the prior film. There is still continuity (or at least non-contradiciton), but the connection is weak.

Type 2 Sequels – The Repeat
This type of sequel seeks to repeat whatever the writers/producers thought made the first film successful. The story of the second film does not continue from events in the first, so much as it duplicates the formula. Most Type 2 Sequels will try to change up a few details (the monster was frozen in sulfur instead of ice), which can give the impression of there being different “types,” but the formula is much the same. These are usually popular if the writers were correct in duplicating what the audience liked. Type 2 Sequels often reuse characters from the original film, but put them into some nominally different situation, where they do pretty much what they did in the first film.

Note: Type 2 Sequels will, often enough, have a pretense of continuity, but the difference is that events of the first film are not crucial to the second. If a movie and its sequel(s) could be viewed in random order and still “read” fine, then they’re Type 2. For example, even though the events in Jaws 2 occur in the same location, some while later , it is essentially the same story (Giant shark attacks people). One did not need to watch Jaws first, for Jaws 2 (or Jaws 3, etc.) to make any sense.

Strong Type 2 Sequels repeat the essentials of the successful formula, but with enough variation in non-critical details that the story is more, and not simply a clone. An example of strong Type 2s would be the many James Bond films. Bond is suave. He seduces lovely women. There is some super-villain up to some absurdly grand villainy. Bond battles the villain and wins. The better Bond films offered enough variety in the details to look fresh, even if the formula was the same. And, it really does not matter much which order you watch Bond adventures.

Moderate Type 2 Sequels repeat the formula, but without much variation in the details. Revenge of the Creature (’55) is a good example. Scientists go to the black lagoon again, and capture the gill man again and take him back again. Once again, the gill man is smitten with the beautiful lady scientist. There is another semi-sensual swimming scene. The ending is much the same too, with the gill man (maybe) killed (or maybe not).

Weak Type 2 Sequels repeat the formula but with so little fresh variations that they’re often called “Here We Go Again” sequels. Think Home Alone 2. The Godzilla franchise slipped into this territory as the years went on. Godzilla battles yet another rubber suit monster, stomping on model cities, etc.

Type 3 Sequels — In Name Only
This is a less common type, but still out there. These sequels purport to be more of what went before, but have no connection to the first film. The story line is not a continuation, and the plot formula is not repeated. An example of a Type 3 Sequel is Return of The Ape Man (’44) which had nothing to do with The Ape Man (’43). The "ape man" did not return. Yes, Bela Lugosi starred in both, but he plays two completely different characters. It was not a continuation, nor a repeat. In the first film, Dr. Brewster was turning into an ape. In the second film, Dr. Dexter is just dressing up in an ape skin to kill victims for their thyroid glands. The stories have no connection. Both films starred Lugosi and both had an ape, in some capacity, but that’s it. A more modern example would be Highlander and Highlander 2. Both share a title and the protagonist, but their stories are completely unrelated.

Often, a sequel will be a mix of Types 1 and 2. Rather than label these hybrids as a separate type, it's better to recognize that they are a mix of Continuation and Repeat. The ratios vary. The second story may continue from the first timeline. On the strong side, the events of the first story will be crucial to the second. On the weak side, it won’t be crucial, but it won't be contradictory either. The hybrid may repeat key elements of the first film’s story. A good example of such a hybrid is Return of the Fly (’59). It picked up the story of the Delambre family and their matter transporter device. Philippe, son of the original fly-man, Andre, seeks to duplicate (but get right) his father’s work. (Type 1 stuff). This results in Philippe becoming a fly-man too. (Type 2 stuff) A newer version of this hybrid type is Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. The story picks up a year after the first film ended and tells an expanding story. However, it also repeats the trope of Katniss and other “tributes” fighting to the death in The Games again.

Hybrids can be the best sequels, if done thoughtfully. The story line continues, with characters that audiences have come to care about, yet they encounter similar-enough troubles that the original dynamic can still be enjoyed. As the Star Wars sequels parade unfolded, it would see its share of both Types and hybrids. It would have its better quality efforts, and its obvious disappointments. The Star Trek movie series would similarly see both types and hybrids, also with mixed success.

1 comment:

Randall Landers said...

I look at the STAR TREK and GODZILLA franchises the same way. Started off with the Continuation. Shifted into Remake Territory.

Of course, the Devlin abomination of Godzilla was In Name Only.

I'd rather films just did continuations. God help us the next time we get yet another superhero reboot. I couldn't deal with another SPIDERMAN reboot.