The Never-Ending Sequel
by Brandon Uhler (@RezBenzene)
Have you ever heard a joke so many times that you cannot, no matter how funny it once was, laugh at it? No? Then, you’ve never heard me tell a joke. I think it’s perfectly clear, though, that the culprit for this lost laughter is none other than repetition. That’s right, something as simple as repetition is the evil that evicts pure enjoyment. If your favorite joke is told over and over and over again, you might even find it bothersome at some point (hopefully not, though).
What entertains us? We have movies, music, television, video games…whatever else you may be into, and we use these outlets as a way to relax, wind down, and alleviate a little bit of stress from our work week. If you use any of these to get wound up and angry, then I really can’t help you. I would advise seeing some sort of specialist, like an exorcist. We enjoy the stories and sounds that take us away from reality for a brief moment, allowing us to forget about what may be troubling us by whisking us away to a fantastical new world all together.
Sequels and remakes have never been more popular than they are now, essentially overextended continuations of that story’s particular universe. Book and comic adaptations, the second and third installments of both movies and video games, re-creations of movies that have already been made, and television shows turned motion pictures are just a few things that Hollywood has become huge fans of. But this method of production treads on very thin ice and becomes a very dangerous practice. This not an instructional on how to produce entertainment, but simply a brief investigation into why some things work and some things don’t. First, let’s look at some things that seem to work for, at least, most of the time.
When I think sequels, there are two particular examples that immediately come to mind; for video games, Final Fantasy and for movies, Bond…James Bond. Now, Final Fantasy is in the teens with the amount of video games they’ve made and James Bond is now doing his twenty-fourth movie, I believe. You can easily pick out some flaws with installments here and there, and you certainly pick the worst ones of the bunch, but the fact remains the same: you don’t get to produce this many sequels successfully unless you have something figured out. So what is it that these productions have figured out?
First and foremost, in every story ever imagined, there are characters. They can exist in any way that the storyteller wants them to–protagonists, antagonists, people for comedic effect, those that tug on your heartstrings, etc. However, no matter the plot, there is one thing that needs to be done for us to give this story a chance: we have to care about the characters. To me, this is the one attribute that has no compromises. Final Fantasy, James Bond, and shows like Doctor Who all have characters we care about. With James Bond and Doctor Who, the show runners are clever enough to replace the leading actors (Bond and The Doctor) every now and again because, like before, we don’t like endless repetition. What’s unique to Final Fantasy is their ability to create antagonists that we absolutely love to hate and hate to love: Kefka, Sephiroth, etc. The Legend of Zelda also does a good job of having a unique enough story and slightly different reincarnation of Link in every new release. (Ocarina of Time is the best game ever made, but that’s a debate for some other time).
The obvious failures of sequels can be traced back to the repetition argument. Sometimes the next installments in a series are just a slightly altered continuation of the first one. In this case, the failure is simply due to the unfortunate thought of, “The first one was great, so we’ll make another one.” There’s no substance to this conclusion and is often the source of a half-commitment to an unnecessary sequel. Other things that contribute to not-so-entertaining entertainment might not be as straight-forward as that, though. Let’s highlight Mass Effect and Dead Space for video games, and for movies, Die Hard and Oblivion.
There is no denying that Mass Effect was an incredible game. It introduced us to interesting characters and a futuristic universe that we had never thought about before; specifically referring to the Mass Relay technology to traverse the universe. We immersed ourselves in this awe-inspiring atmosphere and loved it. Mass Effect 2 came out with redone combat and the user interface had a new look. It was fun to play because it was, quite simply, a good game. Then, we all looked to Mass Effect 3, the grand ending to this successful series. We had been introduced to the characters, the unique story and atmosphere, the technology and new gameplay mechanics, so all that was left was the ending…and it flopped. It seemed unimaginative, almost like it had been done before somewhere else (because it was…The Bible…).
This is the risk you run with sequels, repetition ruins the imagination. Things like Oblivion fall short because we have yet to re-imagine what a post-apocalyptic and utopian future is going to look like. We haven’t really made any progress on that since Blade Runner, which was successful because it was so new and unique for its time. We’re still drawing on that movie’s futuristic universe for our films today. Other things like Die Hard and Dead Space are a little more straightforward. The characters’ evolution from beginning to present (Dead Space 3 and whatever Die Hard we’re on now) is ridiculous. We fell in love with Isaac Clarke and John McClain because they were just a couple of guys, like us, who were just in the wrong place at a very wrong time. But they find the necessary courage (much like Link from Zelda!) to save the day. That is what we enjoy, but we look them now, and they’re like super humans. That’s not interesting or suspenseful, really, and that’s why we leave a bit unsatisfied from those sequels.
Repetition is not all bad; it is actually the solution to many splendid situations. If you want to do well on an exam, repetition is appropriate. If you want to master a sport, video game, or some other activity, repetition is wonderfully appropriate. However, there is most definitely a case where repetition should not be a priority on anyone’s list, whatever that list may be.