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[Article] – Trilogies…

 

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Posted August 29, 2016 by

 
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Trilogies are tricky things. You have to start with a film popular enough to warrant a sequel, and then hope for either a studio hungry for more success, or enough ideas to recapture the magic that made the first one so good. Get it wrong and it’s a cash-in or a mess (Pirates of The Caribbean, although no longer a trilogy, was distinctly just ‘more of the same’; the Matrix sequels were a case of ‘throw all of the ideas in, the story will sort itself out’). Get it right and you can create something truly special and the key to this, I believe, is patience.

The first trilogy (that I can think of…) is a loose one: Sergio Leone’s Dollars films place Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man With No Name’ (the only connection between all three films, and even then not explicitly the same character) in increasingly epic and struggles against a brutal West (actually Spain and Italy). While A Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More are brilliant films, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is up there with the finest films ever made. So, creatively and in terms of casting this is a trilogy, much like Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy, but not in terms of narrative continuity.

As marketing and franchising became ever more prevalent in Hollywood, studios sought to cash in on early success with the ‘more of the same’ ethos. Back To The Future represents one of the better examples, although part 3 lets the side down somewhat; having ran out of ideas they simply repeated the first film in the Wild West. Indiana Jones was a sublime trilogy (if you can overlook the dodgy racial stereotypes that mar Temple Of Doom) until they made a fourth film, whose existence I am still not entirely acknowledging. There are others: Robocop for example, representing the law of diminishing returns in full effect.

The Godfather films should have been a shining example of a movie brat taking on classical Hollywood and winning, were it not for an uneven third act (I’m being generous there). Of the more recent trilogies, extended universes (Lord Of The Rings, Captain America) and further instalments (Jason Bourne) take them out of contention.

The problem for me is that once a hit is scored, studios rush into production (“sequels shooting back to back” a common announcement), leaving little time for the creatives to digest their success and decide whether their characters have mileage or not. The best examples take their time. Take Christopher Nolan; asked to revive the Batman franchise after Joel Schumacher turned it into a neon nightmare. His sterling work on Batman Begins overcame the mountains of fan expectation and audience apathy, and made Batman fresh, dark and real. Did he rush into making what would be a genre-defining film in The Dark Knight? No. he took time out to make a passion project in The Prestige, and again with Inception before completing his trilogy when, creatively, he and it was ready.

The same can be applied to the excellent Toy Story films. An original, joyous film in 1995, Pixar kept challenging themselves and making different films until the surprisingly good sequel in 1999 and again in 2010. They did not bow to fan fervour for immediate follow ups, but trusted the quality of their product and waiting until they had it right.

My favourite trilogy, however, takes biding your time to a whole new level. Richard Linklater’s Before… trilogy is a beacon of long-game success and its very simplicity makes it almost perfect. I’m not a fan of ‘romantic comedies’ per se; they follow a predictable formula, normally aren’t that funny and, for a genre aimed squarely at women, tend to be steeped in patriarchy. Linklater changes all of that with this sweet, funny, moving hat trick of two-headers.

All these films do is follow Julie Delpy’s Celine and Ethan Hawke’s Jesse around beautiful European locations (Vienna, Paris, and rural Greece) as they fall in love, lose each other, are reunited and then struggle to be a couple. They form a very real and relatable story, both romantic and absolutely not. Had the second film not been made, we would have been left with a bittersweet tale of a relationship that never was; instead we get a decades-spanning tale of people who are completely right for each other but struggle with the realities of life together, just like so many people do. In many ways (stylistically, narratively), they are thoroughly un-cinematic but in terms of taking you to another place for a couple of hours, they are the epitome of what cinema should be.

They recall Linklater’s early, experimental films in which the viewer is invited to simply enjoy time with the characters, eschewing traditional narrative structure in favour of just hanging out. The frustrating game of cinematic tag that is Slacker and the brilliantly nostalgic Dazed and Confused don’t really have plots, but the latter at least makes you like the characters enough to wonder what the rest of their lives will be like. That’s the beauty of the Before films; you wonder what’s been happening between them. This is a lesson in taking one’s time between sequels: the 9-year gaps between films shows on the actors’ faces, in their own life experiences and affects their performances; that they’re 20 years older at the end than at the start is absolutely essential.

These films are real, natural and honest and this is reflected in their charm, wit and natural beauty. I’m a comic book fan, I genuinely believe that Captain America: The Winter Soldier should have won the Best Picture Oscar, and I watch Die Hard every Christmas Day. But this trio of sweet, simple, romantic films has be absorbed every time, and that is what cinema is all about.

 

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Written By:

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Adam Laffey
@AdamateurCritic
Blog – Adamature Critic
Freelance Contributor

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