Friday, September 09, 2005

A SOUND OF THUDDING: Grand Movies, Gross Sequels

The official release, after much delay, of director Peter Hyams' adaptation of the Ray Bradbury short story A Sound of Thunder has not exactly set the September box office on fire, nor has it garnered much in the way of glowing reviews, from professional critics or paying customers. My favorite comment, posted recently on the Internet Movie Database, said simply, "Wow, I can't believe I wasted 2 free movie tickets on this one..."

It did, however, get SLIFR regular reader Virgil Hilts wondering about something. Hyams has had a very long career directing mostly undistinguished action thrillers-- his best films are, arguably, the paranoid conspiracy thriller Capricorn One and the spirited, unashamedly cornball monster-in-a-museum programmer The Relic. He has also exposed a lot of film trying to convince us of the heroic attributes of Jean Claude Van Damme (Timecop, Sudden Death), the late-career relevancy of Arnold Schwarzenegger (End of Days) and the need for Hong Kong-style martial arts choreography to make the tales of Alexander Dumas exciting enough for modern audiences (The Musketeer). Despite other enthusiastic efforts, however, he was not able to convince anyone that Sean Connery (Outland, The Presidio) was a bad actor.

But for Virgil, and for many, I'd bet, Hyams' greatest claim to infamy may be his doomed sequel to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Based on Arthur C. Clarke's own unnecessary novel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact attempted to answer the questions inspired by Kubrick's elliptical 1968 classic-- not a great idea in itself-- but also ended up showcasing Hyams' own simple competence in the shadow of Kubrick's imposing artistic shadow and coming off, naturally, somewhat less than impressively.

Virgil sent me an e-mail last night in which he wondered if this was the most egregiously misguided instance of a hack director following up a critically acclaimed or hugely popular film with a tepid, banal or outright awful sequel, and he threw down the gauntlet for me to come up with other similar offenses. I thought of a few pretty good ones, and so did my wife. Then I thought that this might be a fun challenge to lay before the readers of SLIFR--

In the mold of Hyams treading like a towheaded stepchild in the footsteps of Kubrick, what other critically acclaimed and/or popular hits have been followed up by clearly inferior works helmed by clearly inferior directors? Is there another instance of sequelis foolhardiosis to match 2010?

I will refrain from publishing the ones I thought of until after we've amassed a few in the comments column, if you guys haven't come up with them already. But Virgil came up with another example that we'll use as a template:

Steven Spielberg's Jaws begat Jeannot Szwarc's Jaws 2.

According to this formula, a great director doing disservice to his own legacy is not quite what we're looking for (Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part III, Peter Bogdanovich's Texasville).

No, we're looking here for instances of directorial folly from filmmakers who can usually barely be shaken from their natural inclination toward mediocrity, let alone imagine attempting to add to the legacy of an established classic. We're looking for works from filmmakers who had to have known full well the odds were stacked high and imposing against them from the outset, like those looming and mysterious monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey which, if you saw Hyams' 2010, turned out, rather anticlimactically, to be ham radio transmitters connected to really well-meaning space aliens.

So, what great, or merely popular, movies can you think of that were followed up by stinkers directed by filmmakers of less-than-stellar artistic acumen?

(Thanks for the great idea, Virgil!)

UPDATE Sept. 10, 8:01 a.m.-- On the brighter side, the flip side to this little proposition, and perhaps the more difficult task:

What sequel to a critically acclaimed or well-loved film, directed by a mediocre and/or no-name director, either surpassed the original achievement or at least can be said to be a good film in its own right?

Again, Coppola's The Godfather Part II isn't exactly what we're looking for here, nor is James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which may or may not be better than the original The Terminator but would be disqualified because it has the same director as the first film. (However, if someone wanted to post an argument suggesting that James Cameron's Piranha II: The Spawning is somehow better than Joe Dante's Piranha, I might be skeptical, but I would listen!) Also, since we're talking about James Cameron and sequels (yet another question: has any major director ever made more of them than this guy?), I would suggest that Aliens is not exactly what we're after here either, and then step aside and let the debate about who's a better (or worse) director-- Cameron or Ridley Scott-- begin.

I will instead offer my suggestion for this category to get the ball rolling, and it is Return to Oz, the critically lambasted, largely ignored, some might even say heretical follow-up (after nearly 50 years) to the beloved MGM classic The Wizard of Oz. The movie was helmed by first-time director Walter Murch who, thanks to his own trepdiation over directing and the disdainful reaction to his movie in the press, would never direct again. (He has, however, won Oscars as a sound designer and film editor for Apocalypse Now and The English Patient.) For my money, though "Over the Rainbow" is undeniably, heart-stoppingly plaintive and wonderful, Murch's movie, sans the songs that make up for a lot of the vaudevillian pitch of the 1939 movie, hews far closer, with great effect, to L. Frank Baum's template and is filled with terrors and wonders that were beyond the intentions of Victor Fleming and Judy Garland. It has long been available only on a terrible VHS transfer, and the DVD, though markedly better, still does little justice to the dazzling and dark cinematography I remember from being one of the few to see it in its original theatrtical release. But until something better comes along, it'll have to do.

I have another title on my mind that fits into this category too, one I just reencountered after having not seen it for about 12 or 13 years, but I think that one's going to get its very own post. Look for that coming soon. (Yeah, you've heard that one before, haven't you?)

Okay, time for your suggestions. Are there any other sequels, directed by unestablished or unexceptional directors, that outshine or can at least co-exist with their inspirations in terms of quality?


Anonymous said...

I can barely keep my eyes open--it's past 4AM, but I got stuck in horrific stopped traffic coming back from San Francisco (they are doing construction on the bridge in the middle of the night, so all but one bay bridge entrance are closed!--hence, two hours to get to the entrance. Be glad you live in L.A.!) But I have a few sleepy comments: I think of John Boorman as a sometimes-great director (Hope and Glory, for example), but Exorcist II: The Heretic is as bad a sequel as has ever been made. Also, regarding Peter Hyams, I know his "2010" didn't work in many ways, but at the time I admired his chutzpah in trying it, and thought there were some good things about the, when Hyams stopped by the video store I worked at (Videotheque in Westwood), and I helped him get his movies (Beta, for all I know--it was a long time ago!), I told him I'd admired "2010", and his immediate reaction was to blow air from his lips: "puhh!" and roll his eyes, apparently with regret. I insisted that I had thought it was a good attempt to follow up the original, and he was really nice in thanking me, but seemed bummed about how the movie turned out, or its reception, or something. At any rate, he struck me as a nice, normal guy who was a bit embarrassed at a job which hadn't quite turned out the way he'd intended. Now, off to bed for me before I can't type my own name!!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks for your very interesting story, Blaaagh (I don't remember you telling me about that one!) I'd be very curious as to what was behind Hyams' reaction to your comments. Was he embarrassed? Was he bummed out because he felt his movie got a reaction it didn't deserve, and perhaps thinking about it was too painful? Or maybe he too felt it fell short? At any rate, I'm glad you posted this, because it kind of gets at why I woke up this morning thinking the article I posted last night was only half finished. The people that make bad films usually don't set out to make bad films (usually), so whenever I see a whole lot of wallowing around in found camp or otherwise flat-out terrible work, I get a little uncomfortable, especially if the razzing comes more from an impulse to show off one's cultural superiority rather than from a genuine affection for material that you can't help but recognize as sub-par at the same time you're enjoying it. Reacting to cynical work is one thing, but oftentimes movies that fail are borne of sincere attempts to engage material that, for one reason or another, just don't come together. So as much as its fair game, obviously, to talk about movies that don't work, for whatever reason, I thought it was just as interesting to look at the other side of the same coin, which is what the update at the end of this post hopefully addresses. Sorry about your late-night drive. Now, there's a nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Nicholson's THE TWO JAKES is not as good as Polanski's CHINATOWN, but it can hold its head up high.

ROCKY II,III et al. are fun but not as good as the original.

The same goes for RAMBO not being as good as the near-operatic FIRST BLOOD.

The best example of a sequel being good but not as good as the original is Demme's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. LAMBS is a brilliant movie but will always be in the shadow of Michael Mann's visionary psycho-thriller MANHUNTER.

The best examples of sequels not living up to their originals are MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI and THE FLY II. Who was the hack director who thought he could top David Cronenberg?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Anonymous (Can we have a pseudonym, at least, next time?):

You pegged two of the titles that first popped into my head. The Fly II was a simple exploitation job, a sop to make-up artist Chris Walas, who was most likely handed the thankless task of directing this mess as a "reward" for having won an Oscar making Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) look tragically horrific in Cronenberg's film.

But More American Graffiti was made with claims of lineage and associations to George Lucas-- he produced the film with long time associate Howard Kazanjian, and other names like Marcia Lucas (editor) and Caleb Deschanel (cinematographer) pop up in the credits. This was not a simple hack job-- these people were commissioned by Lucas to add to the story of the characters introduced in his 1973 film. But the movie, with its four segments shot in four radically different styles, is too much a film school experiment, and it thoughtlessly retreats from showcasing these characters in anything even resembling the same warmth and understanding seen in the earlier work. Finally, it exposes just how much more effective American Graffiti was for being relatively elliptical about the fates of its protagonists-- that is, up until that much-parodied "where are they now" epilogue that, in 30 seconds, gives you more than enough information about what happened to these folks. It takes More American Graffiti two hours to convey that same information, information we didn't really need to begin with, and to annoy us with its trite pseudo-avant garde approach every minute along the way.

While we're talking about the Hannibal Lecter films, does Red Dragon count as a lame follow-up directed by a lame director (Brett Ratner), even though it's technically a prequel to Lambs, and a remake of Manhunter? I really am gonna have to see Manhunter again. The last time was in a theater in 1985, and I remember being underwhelmed by everything except Brian Cox. But my regard for Michael Mann has increased enough that I would really like to run past this one again sometime. Is that enough to revisit The Keep, however? Is anyone willing to defend this film? Because I'd really like an excuse!

Anonymous said...

I, too, was underwhelmed by "Manhunter," and am unimpressed by most of Michael Mann's work--"The Last of the Mohicans" and "The Insider" are exceptions--and I think "The Silence of the Lambs" is an exceptionally good movie. But maybe I ought to see "Manhunter" again; I do think William Petersen is a terrific actor, at his best.

Stoogeking said...

I believe that Bob Clark was clearly embarrassed by Porky's III, directed by James Komack, who was quite the TV director back in the day. Porky's I and II were cinematic masterpieces, rich with stirring dialogue and tasteful scenes of adolescents dealing with puberty on a sophisticated level, while the third installment was just riddled with poor sexual humor and naughty curse words. Shame on you, Mr. Komack!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

And yet the third Porky's film was the one that snuck by with a PG-13 rating. Twisted...

Anonymous said...

Anyone suggesting that James Cameron's Piranha II: The Spawning is superior to Joe Dante's Piranha, would clearly be on some kind of dangerous hallucinogenic substance and/or in dire need of hospitalization. The original of course, was not only Dante's work (if not his, uh, peak), but co-scripted by John Sayles(!), and is great fun. The sequel is truly awful, and, as many other critics before me have commented, you would have to be psychic to have spotted any kind of future for James Cameron if based solely on "The Spawning."

Another terrible sequel: Be Cool (compared to Get Shorty.)

One sequel that I consider superior to the first is: Star Trek II Wrath of Kahn, but I'm not sure if this would count...

One could argue in favor of Spider-Man II over the first, but they're both good and both by same team... so, like Godfather II, doesn't count. Ditto Empire Strikes Back, I guess.

Fun topic, thanks!

Aaron W. Graham said...

Bogdanovich's "Texasville" seems like a misstep at first glance, but after a few viewings, it's grown on me quite a bit. I prefer the laserdisc cut which restores about 40 minutes of footage [including some references to other movies -- a Cassavetes tribute byway of having "Gloria" on a television, as Cassavetes was one of the first people to have read the "Texasville" script and offer encouragement, and had recently passed away, etc -- but were excised because Bogdanovich wanted to "grow up" from referencing other movies].

I'll admit that the Timothy Bottoms character is given short shrift [at least until the end], but it's a marvelous film about aging and one of my favorites in PB's canon.

Beege said...

Dennis: you gotta get more girls weighing in on your questions! It's a bit testosterony around here. ;)

OK. So I've been thinking about this for a few days. I'm not a huge movie buff...but what I came up with was "Gone with the Wind" and then "Scarlett". I'm not sure it qualifies, as "Scarlett" was only a bad TV movie as opposed to a bad theatrical release. But damn: it was BAD.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Testosterony! The San Francisco treat? (I hear they like it at all NASCAR-friendly zones too!)

Yeah, this question hasn't really inspired the ladies so far, has it? But they are among us-- Thom McG, PSaga, Sharon, Alison, Mojavi, where are ya?! Spread the word, Beege! Any estrogen-oriented movie fans you can wrangle would be more than welcome!

And I definitely think your Gone with The Wind to Scarlett qualifies-- bastardization knows no boundaries when it comes to type of media. For that matter, it seems to me I recall a TV series starring David Soul (!) being wrung out of Casablanca. Yeesh.

Beege said...

Mmmmm...there's nothing better than a big, steaming bowl of testosterony to send the women screaming for the hills. ;)

Perhaps, for your next question, you could ask about bad romantic comedies? Or bad Meg Ryan movies? Or am I just perpetuating a stereotype? ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey, I finally emerged from the murk of work (poor poetry), or of testosterony, or whatever, to come up with a couple of good sequels, ones I liked better than the originals: first, and I imagine you were waiting for someone to mention this one, there's "Final Destination 2"! And the other is "Jurassic Park 2," which itself was bettered (in my humble opinion) by "Jurassic Park 3"! I admit that the first "Jurassic" was hampered, for me, by the murky sound at the Grand Lake in Oakland (since vastly improved), which made Jeff Goldblum's mumbling impossible to decipher, but Spielberg was responsible for overindulging his unfortunate tendency to have every actor stare in slack-jawed wonder off into space at something or other. Anyway, I thought the sequels were both scarier and more fun.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

It is no stereotype that Meg Ryan has become the poster child for bad romantic comedies-- perpetuate that one all you want, I say!

Blaaagh-- to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kinda lost track myself (did I fire six shots, or only five?)... but I'm glad you remembered; it always tickles me to hear of you proselytizing for Final Destination 2. And I absolutely agree that the second and third Jurassic Park movies are far better than the first one. Spielberg's direction of the first one would be self-parody if it weren't also so consistently indifferent. He was much more awake and alive for The Lost World, and Joe Johnston had a crackling good time with III.

Off-topic, but, boy, I can't wait for your visit here during Halloween. There's the Mission Tiki, Saw II and the Sergio Leone exhibit at the Gene Autry, all just waiting for you and me!

Thom McGregor said...

Hey, boys, I'm a chick, and I don't like chick flicks or Meg Ryan! I'm not a stereotype, dang it! Nor can I swear properly, even in writing! However, I am a stereotypical mother-- shut your mouth!-- and the first movies that come to mind of bad sequels would be Lady And The Tramp 2 and Lion King 2. Who directed them? I don't know. I'm assuming they weren't the same people who helmed the first movies. But who directed the first movies? I don't know! How can you direct a cartoon? I don't know again! Speaking of "Silence of the Lambs," I agree with Blaagh that it was a pretty incredibly good movie, and I think "Hannibal" was, at best, sick-making. Best sequel to a bad first movie-- I tried really hard to come up with something and even thought I had a good one in the back of my mind, but, alas, the back of my mind, much like the front, proved empty.

Lester said...

Thom, I love the way you think!