Americans are by nature a nation of tinkerers. We love to fix and re-fix, design and re-design. No matter what it is, a machine, an idea or each other, we simply can't leave well-enough alone. Maybe that's why so many inventions, including our country itself, are always being re-invented. One of our proudest, home-grown art-forms, the movies, is always being re-made – even if the original is pretty near perfect.
Long before Watson, there was HAL
Take some films you think are close to perfection and then try to imagine yourself as a producer or a director dreaming of re-making them. That's got to be one crazy idea, right? Did Mozart or Beethoven try to top themselves by re-writing their best works? No, they simply wrote completely new ones. Hollywood takes a different view which is usually filled with dollar signs: if the original made millions maybe the sequel will make more millions. Right? There are literally dozens of features that made this concept look bad, especially to the investors footing the bills.
A modern American legend, Rocky, made Sylvester Stallone a household name and an instant star. The all-American rags-to-riches story that resonated with everyone was remade four times. In between, Stallone starred in other vehicles, like Rambo, that just added to his enormous fame and bank accounts. He should have left the original Rambo alone but was tempted to make sequels and they missed the mark. I liked Rocky II but that's as far as my interest went. By the time the geniuses brought out number V the originality and let's-root-for-the-underdog spirit were completely gone. Stallone's aged face didn't bring me closer to cheering for him – again.
The pairing of Paul Newman with Robert Redford is
one of those immortal duets right up there with Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello. 1969's Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid is one of my all-time favorites. The interplay of the two lead actors and their characters is a classic. Then in 1973 they were teamed again for The Sting, taking their star-power and chemistry and moving from the Old West to 1930's Chicago. Again, the blend was magical and another screen classic emerges. Just 10 years later someone (hopefully who lost his job) decided to re-make it into The Sting II, with Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis. Using the title of the original to foist this "retroactive continuity" (as described by the director) on the public was an immediate mistake.
The Classic Con
Still in Chicago, in 1980, Jake and Elwood Blues have just been released from Joliet Prison. The Blues Brothers was adapted from Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi's famous Saturday Night Live band. This wonderfully goofy film, with great music, famous musicians and a one-of-a-kind car chase sequence, was a definite one-off – and should have stayed that way. Well, at least they waited almost twenty years but still couldn't duplicate the original. In Blues Brothers 2000 John Goodman was added as a new member of the band and Dan Aykroyd reprises his role as Elwood, albeit a bit heavier and slower. There's still good music, with the original band intact and many big-name musicians gracing the screen. But somehow, some originals are missing and that includes what made the first one unique.
In 1968 Stanley Kubrick directed what is undoubtedly a modern film masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. There were so many different themes about Life, Man and a future dominated by computers, plus
Kubrick's genius combining classical music with science fiction, it would take an entire column to discuss them. An original movie that has garnered some of the world's top cinematic awards and accolades you would think that no one would have attempted to fine-tune it. Peter Hyams tried to in 1984 making 2010: The Year We Make Contact, taking Arthur C. Clarke's own written sequel to the original book, 2001. It was, to say the least, a valiant attempt but, to paraphrase Hal, "I don't think we should have done that, Dave."
One last honorable mention: 1990's The Godfather Part III. Al Pacino again portrays Michael Corleone in 1979 as new forces are aligned to take over his empire and destroy La Familia Corleone. I think everyone by this time understands the characters and how La Cosa Nostra reputedly works, so another visit to your friendly neighborhood goombahs isn't necessary. This film failed on a large scale. To paraphrase: "Just when we thought we were out they tried to pull us back in."
By now you're asking if this columnist has some sequels that were as good as, or even surpassed, the originals. Rest easy, readers. Here are my picks:
Goldfinger (1964) Better than From Russia With Love, with more gadgets and Bond-girls.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966) Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach are just so perfect in this last of the trilogy.
Aliens (1986) Even better, especially Sigourney Weaver, than Alien.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Director James Whale built on a successful, unique original and made it better.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Rocky II (1979) Stallone is still in great shape and his alter ego is too.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
More special effects and Robert Patrick as the invincible T-1000 terminator.
The Blues Brothers
The Dark Knight (2008) Takes the darkest side of the Batman films and magnifies it with Heath Ledger's scene-stealing performance.
The Manchurian Candidate (2004) and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) I admit to a certain bias when it comes to Denzel Washington: he's so versatile that these re-makes are convincing.
I wanted to save, in my humble opinion, the best for last: 1974's The Godfather, Part 2. The original Godfather (1972) garnered numerous awards: 11 Academy Awards, 17 nominations and 19 other awards. It is number 2 on the AFI Top 100 Greatest Films of All Times List. To try to duplicate, or even surpass, a film of such staggering proportions seemed like insanity when the sequel was released in 1974. Marlon Brando's performance as Vito Corleone was, and still is, an original creation of classic proportions. But the Part 2 film, which won a Best Picture Oscar (extremely rare for a sequel), split the story of the Corleone dynasty into a present-day and an historical look at Vito's emigration to America and rise to power. Robert DeNiro breathes life into the young Vito just as chillingly, powerfully and dramatically as Brando made the adult Vito. We watch in fascination how Michael inherits the title, Godfather, and works to maintain it. Two totally classic movies, forever linked by their titles. Movies don't really get any better than this for me.
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Feb 24, 2011 12:12 PM
|All good choices, Jon. None of them should have been made. However, there is only ONE reason to watch BLUES BROTHERS 2000, and that's the Battle of the Bands at the end. It's a shame that the greatest collection of blues musicians in the world, and that will probably never be seen together again, had to be associated with this steaming pile of manure.|
Feb 26, 2011 9:25 PM
|Nice column, Jon. Because there have been some very good second parts, I think movies should get one sequel and one sequel only. Die Hard and X-Men both had great sequels but, case in point, every one since has been terrible.|
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My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).|
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