(post from 2013)
My sister Sarah said the above quote and I thought it was so true.
We live in a swirling media storm of sequels, re-boots, re-imaginings, prequels, adaptations, updates, and spin-offs. Our summer movie slates are full of sequels and three-quells and our fall movie schedules are full of play and book adaptations. The new season of TV brings spin-offs of popular shows and a new take on 1820’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
First off, the pros: there is a lot to be said for stories and characters so popular that they last year after year and the demand is still there. Arthur Conan Doyle famously tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes but Holmes was so popular that he was brought back and continues to this day in a series of blockbuster movies and two (!) TV shows. The world is better for his continued presence.
And if you love a book series like Harry Potter then of course it’s fun to see it brought to life as a movie. And lot of my favorite movies are from older material, from Pride & Prejudice to The Avengers.
But what you are getting is a predefined quantity, be it for good or ill. A beloved book series should come across largely unchanged as a movie, and a ‘re-invention’ of a ‘50s TV series may lose the charm without gaining anything new.
Honestly, most of my favorite movies and shows are originals. There has been much made of the ‘non-success’ of some of this summer’s original movies like Pacific Rim and After Earth, but the failure of sequels and spin-offs is more insidious and harder to point out.
Sequels often make a little more money and get a little more coverage but they are broken just as often — that speaks to bad writing, which crosses all borders. Even good takes though, have one powerful missing ingredient — the power to make us see something we’re never seen before.
I just finished watching season one of Girls and I’m sure it draws on many old shows but it was very exciting as a viewer to have no idea where it was going. Most every convention was turned on its head brilliantly by the end of the season and Lana Dunham’s fresh voice kept me tuning in.
Which brings me to the final point, in the end it’s not about where a premise originated from, it’s about how fresh those ideas and the voice telling them is. Imagine in your mind an actual story-teller, up on a stage, his voice hoarse and worn-out as he treads over the story he’s told to this same group a hundred times. Now imagine a ‘fresh voice’ speaking up out of the crowd, then walking up to the stage and telling the same stories of love and lose, of hope and heartbreak that mankind has been telling since the dawn of time — but this time the story feels different, the characters arrest you, and the plot zigged right when you thought it would zag. It was truly like nothing you’d even seen before.
All that and they juggled baby geese.