Friday, May 9, 2014

Question for the Week of May 5-11: Most Awkward "Sequel"

So you have a Blues Brothers sequel 18 years after the original with one of the leads dead and replaced by John Goodman. The Dumb & Dumber sequel is also off by at least 19 years. Tron 2.0 was pretty late to the party, as well. The less said about Indiana Jones 4, the better. And the time to create Ghostbusters III had elapsed ages ago, even before the death of Harold Ramis.

All of this is distinct from the nightmare called Prometheus, which is a prequel, and the same goes for most recent Star Wars entries. Similarly, the Star Trek, Jack Ryan, and Spider-Man franchises don't count, as they are now in reboot mode. And Godzilla doesn't count because it's a remake.

And, if you look at the pictures I mentioned above, Tron, Indy 4, and BB2k were just bad, they weren't necessarily awkward. That prize, instead, must go to Sean Connery's return to the 007 franchise in Never Say Never Again.

The odd thing is that it wasn't like Indy 4, where the lead actor had become so much older. And no one was absent because they were dead. And the last film in the series hadn't been released decades earlier, either. What, then, made the experience so awkward?

We can start with the title, which was an intentional joke (supplied by Connery's wife) on the fact that Connery said he would never reprise the part. Right off the bat, we're talking about a weird little beat, and it's impossible to ignore if it's in the name of the picture.

Far more problematic, however, is that NSNA wasn't produced by the company which has controlled the James Bond franchise from Dr. No through to the present day. This aspect had a profound impact that... Well "awkward" seems an appropriate adjective when you can't actually use the classic James Bond Theme.

In the past, I compared the Friday the 13th movies to the Bond franchise. Both rely heavily on formula, different adventures wherein certain things like puns, guns, the woods, and premarital sex are used over and over. Audiences come back to see some iconic film figure that goes through little change, merely being updated for the times.

But the standards are far higher for the fictitious spy than the undead killer. And imagine a Ft13th film that doesn't have a hockey mask or can only call the murderer "Jason," and not use his surname, Voorhees...

This limited authority to produce Never also meant that certain mainstays of the series couldn't appear. No gun-barrel opening for the credits. New actors portrayed Moneypenny, Q, and M. Sure Bond still packs a Walther PPK, but the roles I mentioned had been played by the same actors for a while, appearing in almost every prior installment.

Finally, we come to the real kicker. Sure, NSNA had worse-looking effects and stunts than before. And, sure, Mr. Connery didn't seem into the part as much as he once had. Yet the most uncomfortable and disappointing aspect was really quite critical: the story.

The filmmakers, for some reason, had decided to recycle the screenplay used for Thunderball, the third Bond picture. If you look at the synopsis for each, you'll see that they have the same exact mission and threat. The characters even have the same names!

Yet it wasn't enough to copy and paste (and then find and replace) the narrative elements of a classic 007 film. No, the 1983 feature actually reused some of the exact same props from the 1965 production.

And this, in particular, represents a real, unique problem. The films based on Ian Fleming's books rely on the nostalgia for and love of this particular character. Never mind the fact that people love what is, in essence, a patriotic gentleman-sociopath - fans have long memories, and they're going to recall seeing an old set of plots covered over with a fresh coat of paint.

Won't those lingering recollections come right to the fore when you're seeing the same pieces of set-dressing?

How much would that diminish the appeal, or the satisfaction felt by filmgoers? How are people not going to compare this new edition to an older, revered one which Bond devotees will doubtlessly recall?...

And how are you going to snake your way past complaints about the film looking cheaper - several scenes are shot with such poor light, they're actually hard to see - when you couldn't even rig up some new props?

For my money, all of the above have to put Never Say Never Again as the hands-down winner for most awkward sequel. Yes, even above the DaD sequel, where Harold and Lloyd continue to have low IQs, and it's supposed to be funny despite their burgeoning AARP-eligibility.

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