After recently seeing, and thoroughly enjoying, the third Transformers film, Dark of the Moon, it came to our mind that not all film trilogies are created equal. Some are imagined with great creativity and care, are built to endure. Others cut corners wherever possible, chasing a quick box-office buck at the cost of quality. Here follows a discussion of the many disguises of the film trilogy.
1 > 3 > 2: There are the walk-up flats, those trilogies with essentially strong bones that somehow fall victim to the fickleness of fashion. The first film is high quality and extremely popular, but then the second looses it a little – its yellow bricks and shared parking are now thought to be ugly, so it is left to the students / artists / elderly whose youth allowance / dole / pension can’t afford better. But as time goes by and fashions revisit past eras, the third film benefits from a lick of paint and some minor upgrades, and suddenly gains a whole new lease on life. Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future and Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogies are both examples.
1 > 2 > 3: There are the commission houses, those trilogies that start with zeal and grand dreams, but ultimately fail to deliver. The first film is good, magnificent even, but the second already exhibits early signs of decay – the tenants move out and the drug dealers move in, leaving only broken lifts and empty hallways. By the time the third film is released, the whole precinct has been condemned, the wrecking crews already booked to remove the sad reminder of what could have been. The Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix and Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogies are both examples.
1, 2, 3 + 4: There are the heritage conversions, those trilogies that belonged to another era but have since been renovated and modernised. Indeed, they cannot truthfully even be called trilogies anymore, now that a fourth film has been tacked onto the end of the original three. Sometimes, the fourth is good, respecting the original building’s character at the same time as appealing to modern needs and tastes. Other times, the fourth is terrible, delivering an uninhabitable conversion while also wrecking our memories of the original. The Die Hard trilogy is an example of the former – the fourth instalment is so good, it almost matches the original. Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones trilogy is an example of the latter – the fourth is confusing and loosely scripted, leagues behind the excellent Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
1 = 2 = 3: Most rare are the architectural masterpieces, those trilogies that are great every step of the way. The first film is exceptional, already ahead of its time. The second builds on the sturdy foundations of the first as well as avoiding the many potential stumbling blocks of the avant-garde – its roof doesn’t leak, its planning makes sense and it receives only critical acclaim. Then the third ascends to previously unimaginable heights, entering the hallowed realm of the timeless classic, all the while delivering new surprises and delight. Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy is one such example – see our previous post on the subject here.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Into which category do the original Star Wars films fall, or the follow up trilogy? What of Lord of the Rings, Ace Ventura or Mad Max? The Millenium series, Blade, RoboCop or the Ocean’s trilogy?