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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Sequels: part 2

Somehow it wouldn’t be right to have a commentary on sequels without, well, having a follow-up. So here is my sequel to my commentary on sequels.

An obvious question, at least to me anyway, that is sparked by an investigation into the history of movie sequels is: what are the most unnecessary sequels ever made? There are certainly plenty of candidates to consider. In fact, it might be easier to come up with a list of sequels that were actually good ideas. But there are actually more of those than you might think.

Generally, I believe that bad ideas for sequels can be divided into two broad categories. They can be summed up as follows: 1) sequels to good movies and 2) sequels to bad movies. Making sequels to good or even classic movies can be a really bad idea because a well-made film is usually complete in itself. Continuing the story may well detract from the original, sometimes by trying to answer questions deliberately left dangling and sometimes simply by being of a lower quality. Here are my nominations for some of the most pointless sequels ever made to good or great movies:

  • The Birds II: The Land’s End: Strangely, Richard Franklin’s 23-years-later sequel to Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho wasn’t a total fiasco, mainly because of the participation of Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles. By contrast, the 31-years-later sequel to Hitchcock’s The Birds was a fiasco, even with the participation of Tippi Hedren. As Leonard Maltin observed, “the acting and script are mostly bird-brained stuff.” The main clue that this was a bad idea: director Rick Rosenthal took his name off the credits.

  • Exorcist II: The Heretic: Even for a bad idea, this movie should have been better. Linda Blair and Max von Sydow were back and original director William Friedkin was replaced by the capable John Boorman. But the story was incoherent and the movie was hampered by Richard Burton’s hammy performance in the lead role. Said Pauline Kael: “Another in the long history of moviemakers’ king-size follies.”

  • Grease 2: All in all, Michelle Pfeiffer had to be an improvement over Olivia Newton-John, but Scottish-born Maxwell Caulfield was just too convincing as the nerdy half of the lead couple (gender-reversing the original movie), and he simply emphasized how good John Travolta had been. Having veterans Eve Arden, Sid Caesar and Dody Goodman back only further emphasized how lame the sequel was compared to the original.

  • High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane: Let’s be real. How many of us were saying at the end of Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic High Noon, “Yes, but what happened next?” Didn’t matter. A mere 28 years later, we got the answer. Lee Majors took over the role of Will Kane from the late but immortal Gary Cooper. Turned out that the marshal who replaced Kane after the events of the first movie was a bad dude and needed to be dealt with. With this timetable, we have only three more years until the third installment.

  • Jaws 2: Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was such a great summer flick that we couldn’t help but want more of it. Be careful what you wish for. Richard Dreyfuss wisely avoided the sequel and Robert Shaw was fortunate enough to have had his character killed off. Roy Scheider wasn’t so lucky, and in the scenes where he ranted and raved to townspeople (who by then should have known better) about the dangers of a great white, his desperation seemed just a little too real. This flick actually foresaw the dawning watching-teenagers-die-horrible-deaths-as-entertainment trend of the 1980s. Scheider managed to have his character killed off-screen after this flick, but Lorraine Gary (wife of MCA president Sidney Sheinberg) came back for one of the two subsequent sequels.

  • Rocky II: The four sequels to Rocky are a case study in why follow-ups can be a really bad idea. Thanks to Rocky II through V, hardly anybody remembers that the original Rocky was actually a pretty darn good movie. This is the one that started the downward spiral. The same cast was back as well as the screenwriter, Sylvester Stallone, who took over directing chores from John Avildsen. They just couldn’t resist having Rocky get a rematch with Apollo Creed. Sometimes the key to genius is just knowing when to shut up.

  • The Sting II: Jackie Gleason was something of a comic genius. But no one would mistake him for Paul Newman. Yet he was cast as Henry Gondorff in this 1983 follow-up to George Roy Hill’s Oscar-winning movie. Mac Davis was cast as Johnny Hooker, Robert Redford’s role. Oliver Reed replaced the late Robert Shaw as Lonnegan. Wrote Roger Ebert, this movie “has one unavoidable problem: We’ve already seen The Sting.”

  • 2010: Set nine years after the events of 2001: A Space Odyssey (and released 16 years after), this is a classic example of how adding more information to a great story results in less. Peter Hyams (Capricorn One, Outland) took over the director’s chair from the legendary Stanley Kubrick, and the (again hapless) Roy Scheider was the new spaceman sent to find out what happened to the 2001 mission. The presence of original star Keir Dullea, as well as Douglas Rain again as the voice of HAL are nice touches but don’t make the sequel any more necessary. Let’s face it. No sequel to 2001 could ever have been satisfactory. There was nothing more to be said. The metaphysical musings raised by Kubrick’s masterpiece are at best unaffected (and at worst trivialized) by this attempt to make literal sense of the earlier movie.

    Add to this list the probably inevitable future sequel to the movie Casablanca. Time Warner commissioned a writer named Michael Walsh to write a sequel to the movie in novel form called As Time Goes By, and it was published in 1998, amid a heavy promotional campaign. Only two questions remain. Why? And what has taken so long for the film adaptation?

    If there are very good reasons not to do a sequel of a good movie, then they are even better reasons not to do a sequel of bad movie. If the odds are that a sequel will not be as good as the original, why start from something mediocre or crummy to begin with? Maybe this happens become filmmakers think it will be easier to measure up to (or exceed) a bad movie rather than a good one? Or maybe it is just laziness, since most bad movies are rip-offs of other movies anyway. If you put “Part 2” on the title, you don’t even have to bother changing names or plot details. Here are some cases where not only were the sequels unnecessary but that the original movies were unnecessary:

  • Food of the Gods II: The original Food of the Gods only served one useful purpose. It provided a way to win bets in a bar by asking, in what movie did Marjoe Gortner and screen legend Ida Lupino co-star? The sequel, in contrast, did not even feature any actors that anybody could actually name. Not only did the sequel have absolutely no relation to the first movie, other than the title, neither movie had absolutely any relation to the H.G. Wells novel from which they ripped off their titles.

  • Gator Bait II: Cajun Justice: I don’t know if it is fair to list movies that hardly anyone has even heard of, but I just love the title. Both this movie and its predecessor trade on the monstrous inbred hillbilly stereotype that Deliverance somehow made respectable in the 1970s. The original at least featured the charms of Claudia Jennings, a Playboy Playmate of the Year, as a self-reliant swamp girl named Desiree. Because of Jennings’s untimely death, the sequel didn’t even have the benefit of her presence. Someone named Jan MacKenzie played her city-bred sister-in-law, who learns in the course of the movie how to put slobbering backwoodsmen in their place.

  • Iron Eagle II: The original, released the same year as Top Gun, featured Louis Gossett Jr. four years after he got an Oscar for playing essentially the same character in An Officer and a Gentleman. It told the totally believable (not!) story about an 18-year-old (Jason Gedrick) who makes off with an F-16 fighter jet to save his father, who has been taken prisoner in the Middle East. Gossett was back for this flick, with a new sidekick (Mark Humphrey) and an even less believable story. Maltin wrote that “the film makes Top Gun seem like From Here to Eternity.” Gossett came back for yet another sequel four years later with no young sidekick but a sprawling cast that included future U.S Senator Fred Thompson.

  • Piranha II: The Spawning: The 1978 movie Piranha was a silly movie, but it had the advantage of being penned by the very witty John Sayles, one of his many screenwriting gigs that financed his more serious film directing career. In addition to being a knowing parody of Jaws, it featured the respectable talents of Bradford Dillman, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Barbara Steele, Paul Bartel and Richard Deacon. Was a sequel necessary? Of course not. The only recognizable name in the follow-up film’s cast was Lance Henriksen, and it had a bizarre storyline about mutated flying fish mating with grunions and spawning oversize giant killer creatures. Still, this is one bad sequel that is worth noting, if for no other reason that its director followed it up with a somewhat better thriller called The Terminator. That’s right, even James Cameron had to start somewhere.

    Final question on this sequel topic: Are there any movies that were so certain of having sequels that they actually had a Roman numeral I or “part 1” in the title? I can think of only a couple. Mel Brooks’s History of the World—Part 1 was a rambling set of comedy spoofs, united only by the fact that they were set in specific ancient historical settings. Did Brooks actually intend to make a sequel. If he did, then he has never gotten around to it. Anyway, I think the “part 1” was really meant as a joke.

    The only other case I can think of offhand is a movie that didn’t actually have an “I” or a “part 1” in the title, but it clearly seemed intended to be the first of a series. In 1985, a film was released that was based on a series of spy novels by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy. It was directed by Guy Hamilton, who had helmed four James Bond movies, including Goldfinger. It starred Fred Ward as a New York City cop recruited by some kind of secret do-gooding society. Joel Grey played his inscrutable Korean mentor. It had every earmark of being the first of many installments. Even the title (right down to its ellipsis), Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins…, suggested more to come. Apparently, the movie’s box office performance was not encouraging enough. There has never been a sequel.

    -S.L., 31 March 2005

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