Sequel Desperation

Die Hard 4We all know sequels are becoming more common, and greater minds have written about the tedious procession of them. But there’s a new kind of sequel we’re in the midst of right now – we’ve seen a few examples, and there are a few more to come.

I’m talking about the desperate and belated sequel. It’s characterised by a once great idea in an iconic movie that made a real mark on popular culture and helped create stars or reinvigorate genres.

One could claim the trend started with 1999’s Star Wars Episode 1, the Phantom Menace. George Lucas’ claim that he always wanted to tell the pre-story of the Skywalker family might be true, but it had been a long time between gigs for him and that billion dollar global haul would have been a strong incentive.

But it started wholeheartedly last year with studios anxious for hits after spiralling production costs and dwindling box office numbers left them desperate for sure things, to say nothing of 80s stars desperate to reach their former standing.

Rocky Balboa worked only because it was the same as every other Rocky movie, right down to the rock music training montage. But the idea of Stallone exhuming the character at age 60 seemed frankly ridiculous – except to Stallone, who hadn’t had a hit in years and whose last few stinkers had gone straight to DVD. Not ready to give up yet, he’s also writing, directing and starring in another Rambo film.

Similarly, every recent Bruce Willis movie had begun to look like the same ageing-cop-on-the-edge-faces-impossible-mission story. So why not revisit the granddaddy of them all, John McLane? The PG-friendly script and cyberterrorism premise were ill advised, and Die Hard 4.0 was okay but patchy as a result.

Also set to put the walking frame and arthritis pills aside and run around like a thirty year old is Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Like Willis and Stallone, Ford’s last few movies were lazy retreads of his shopworn persona that didn’t fool anyone and he’s probably desperate for former glory.

But it’s not just action stars. After being the hottest things in the entertainment universe, David Duchovny and Gillian Andersen’s post X Files careers have amounted to a limp selection of dross, Duchovny even returning to the softcore porn of the Red Shoe Diaries (Disclaimer; Californication is making big waves but the forthcoming X Files movie has been in preparation for longer)

The interesting thing to ask isn’t ‘why are they doing it?’ That’s obvious – when you’re on top of the world you can get a little sick of playing Rambo, Fox Mulder or Indiana Jones and want to prove yourself a serious actor. But long after the hoopla when you’re living in a Beverley Hills trailer park and your agent doesn’t return your calls, what are you going to do? You’ve only got one meal ticket left, and it’s a 20-year-old character everyone once loved.

No, the interesting question is; why do we love them? Why did we return Rocky Balboa’s investment six times over and Die Hard 4.0’s three and a half times?

I put it down to tech fatigue. Futurists all say the more technically saturated society becomes, the more we’re going to want to switch everything off and reconnect with the old ways. Could Beverley Hills Cop, Twin Peaks and The Lost Boys be the Generation X equivalent of cross stitch, hiking and decoupage? Ordinarily it’d be time for a Time Capsule, except the studios are already serving up its contents.