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The Hollywood Trilogy, does it work?

III.jpgI’ve just watched Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Filmstalker review) and although it isn’t the worst in the series it sill isn’t nearly as good as the first film.

The second in the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Filmstalker review) was undoubtedly the worst. It had two acts of a film, no completion, and consisted of set pieces that looked like the new Disney rides.

That got me to thinking, what is it with trilogies? Are studios racing too quickly to setup a trilogy because one film is successful and they sniff a franchise? Are the second and third films really as good as the first? Do they really justify three films, or would two be enough?

So what trilogies out there can we use as examples? Well a few spring to mind immediately, Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Matrix, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future.

Spider-Man seems to be a contentious trilogy. The first film was superb, and the second comparably so, yet the third seems to have been quite hit or miss for most. Is this an example of a trilogy that might have been better with just two films?

Pirates of the Caribbean most certainly is a perfect example of that. The second film in the trilogy was not a complete film, and its third act was hidden at the end of the third film. Cut out the Disney ride sequences from the second film and the weak, going nowhere plot lines of the second, and you’ve got yourself a powerful second film.

Now Indiana Jones is another great example of a trilogy that is only three films, yet perhaps if it hadn’t been three films we wouldn’t have had the strong final episode Temple of Doom. As it was the second film in the series, Last Crusade, turned out to be almost as strong as the first.

Another example of where the second film is the worst in the series is Matrix. The first film was exceptional, and to a degree was a victim of its own groundbreaking success. The second was more of the same that tried to cram well over a films worth of story into a single chapter, and the last film fought valiantly to recover, but never hit the heights of the first.

Yet this isn’t a modern issue in Hollywood, we’ve seen that with Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. The first Future film was the strongest, the second was perhaps a little too futuristic for its own good, and once again the final episode in the trilogy came back almost as strong as the first.

One thing I believe is that there should be no Hollywood convention of a trilogy. A film should be made and a sequel should only be followed if there’s something new and original to do there, not just more of the same. Above all though, a sequel should never be made merely to extend a series to a trilogy. Many films have shown us that this just doesn’t work, including the recent Pirates of the Caribbean.

The original Star Wars is a wonderful example of a trilogy, in fact a double trilogy, but I’m almost too scared to even start dissecting those. Each of these trilogies has a bumpy ride and has good points and bad. I think I might leave that one for you to debate.

So do trilogies really work, or are they just a Hollywood convention and tend to stretch out an idea longer than its lifespan? What about Rambo, Superman, The Godfather, Lord of the Rings, Mission Impossible, Terminator?

Is the second film always a weaker one, or is the real problem a film trying to live up to the impact of the original idea and storyline?

What do you think about the Hollywood trilogy?





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Comments

For me, it's really quite simple.

The first film everything is fresh, everything is old-hat by the 3rd.

The first film generally does not have high expectations (Starwars, Matrix, Pirates fall into this, SpiderMan and Lord of the Rings did have big expectations going in due to their source material).

Based on the Alien franchise and most recently 28 Weeks Later, my rules for big franchieses/trilogies are this:

1) Change Directors with each chapter. You get a different spin on things and keeps things fresh. Fewer Yes-men kowtowing to previously successful director.

2) Follow the world/mythology, not the characters. Explore the themes and ideas of the franchise, not shoe-horning characters back into the saddle after they 'lived happily ever after' following the first film.

3) Do not make everything BIGGER with the sequel. Too much action or CGI ruins the balance most likely achieved with the successful entry. There are times when this works to a degree (Aliens and 28 Weeks Later again...The StarWars prequel trilogy made this mistake big-time)

4) Do not incorporate too many new villains or story threads. Keep the focus of the film tight and focus on the details, not juggling 9 threads. Make 9 damn films if you wish to do that (guilty: most comic book franchises, particularly Batman and Spiderman films)

5) If you plan on making 3 or more films, you are telling multiple chapters in a story or stories, the world/universe does not have to be at stake every single time. Smaller can be better. Nobody seems to understand this.

6) Spend the time and money on screenplay first and foremost. Filming back-to-back sequels is great for saving money, but it rushes the screenplays and doesn't let each chapter develop organically. I'm sure Pirates and Matrix sequels hurt for this.

Oh and I completely dis-agree on the Matrix sequel. The second Matrix film is, for me, the best of the three. I'm not kidding, and constantly get into arguments about this. I just love the new characters, the great computer/programming metaphors, the architect sequence, the staircase fight and chase sequence, and the cliffhangers that were set to pay off big-time in part 3 but the third chapter just didn't bother to follow up the potential and opted for a boring shoot-em-out.

And I purposely left any Lord of the Rings out of this discussion because it seemed to be conceived as a single long film from the get-go. Almost every other trilogy starts out as a successful stand-alone movie (although the writers/directors often claim after the success of the first one that it was indeed conceived as a trilogy...i kinda doubt that in most cases).

I have to agree with you Kurt. The third entry in most trilogies seem to be the weakest. Why? Well I'm not completely sure, but it's been mentioned by Kurt and isn't really that difficult to see for yourself.

I think with, let's say Spider-Man 3, everything just gets caught up with everything else that is going on. I think the studio, producers, directors, writers, whatever just go 'What the heck, let's just throw everything in'. And they do. In order for a trilogy to work, all 3 films need to be different. Think of it like 3 children, all have completely different personalities but sharing a bed with the same cover. The films need to be different, but wrapped in the same/familiar world.

Of course this doesn't have to apply to all trilogies.

Do trilogies really work? Sometimes.

Are they justified as often as they are produced? Not even close.

Did I just create a trilogy of questions that I answered myself? Yes I did.

I'll bet I could sell the film rights...

Thematic Trilogies, where the characters are not carried over from one chapter to the next, often work the best. Here are a few that have no weak chapters:

Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance Trilogy

Krystof Kieslowski's Three Colours

Gus Van Sant's 'meditative/death' trilogy consisting of Gerry, Elephant and Last Days)

Lindsay Anderson's Mick Travis Trilogy (If..., O Lucky Man!, Britannia Hospital) is about three stages of a mans life.

François Truffaut's Antoine Doinel films (admittedly there are 5 of them, not 3!) also do this very well.

Finally Nicholas Widing Refn's PUSHER trilogy has each part deal with three characters involved in different aspects of dealing drugs and all of them are bloody fantastic.


So I guess what I"m saying is that art-film trilogies tend to work more often than Blockbuster styled trilogies...probably due to the fact that art films focus on themes, mood and style where as Blockbuster films typically focus on special effects and story plotting.

Thanks for letting me ramble on this subject Richard.

I think I agree with pretty much all the comments above. In a nutshell (& only repeating some of the above) I think trilogies can work, in fact they can work really well, provided enough effort is put into them.

Effort doesn't always mean money, or special effects, I mean the art films are a good example reflecting this. Above the rest I'd say that the time they put into it at each and every step of the process should reflect in proportion to the scale of their budgets but they never really do.

Story & screenplay probably gets the least and needs the most time, but at a guess this will be studios setting unreasonable deadlines as they simply see it as an asset that will make a return. They're not necessarily bothered if a series dies, they'll have other assets crawling upto them every day.

.. & so I think it burns down to a battle between the creative team & the studios that ruins trilogies'

The "bigger than the previous one" is a definite bad idea. Also I think that most movies that end up being called trilogies suffer from not being designed to be a threesome right from the get go. Usually it's a make money as they go approach... if the first one makes a bunch of cash, go on to number two, if THAT one does, do a third.

Vic

Well what about other successful trilogies like Back to the Future and Indiana Jones? Nobody's got a problem with them?

I must say although I loved The Godfather III it was not as excellent as the first 2.

Well I was hoping that some people would pick up on these. The second Back to the Future is nowhere near as strong as the other two, and that's the same for Indiana Jones.

I thought those might be quite hot discussions, obviously not!

Same with Jurassic Park eh?

Indiana Jones was styled after old adventure serials. By their very nature, films like this almost demand sequels. Granted, Raiders of the Lost Ark was a definitely more closed-ended than its inspirational works were. So were the two films that followed. No cliffhanger endings to be found here. Even still, the effect is the same. It just seems to be a series that leaves one wanting more.

Ditto for Star Wars.

Lord of the Rings really just speaks for itself.

One series I'm not afraid to say was a mistake to expand into a trilogy was The Matrix. And it's The Matrix that I keep finding myself comparing to Pirates. The first chapter was fantastic, then the follow-ups just went too far.

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