The Series Project: Introduction
By: Witney Seibold
I have decided to start a new project here on the Darkened Years website: The Series Project.
There is a grand tradition in filmmaking, a tradition one can often see in full effect any given summer in American multiplexes. It is a long-standing tradition of imitation, rip-offery, and beating dead horses into the ground. I refer mostly to the practice of The Sequel.
As a general rule, I have no problems with sequels. While sequels and “follow-ups” seldom live up to the quality and shock of originality presented by the original films, I still think there can be charm in returning to the well. If you loved the characters from the first, why not spend another two hours with them? And even if a sequel is ill-advised (as is more often the case), there can be a joyous hubristic thrill is watching the filmmakers try to outdo themselves.
Usually the first film, for whatever reason, strikes a chord. The filmmakers, realizing they have a potential “franchise” on their hands, amp up the action (and it’s usually action-based films that get sequels), bring in bigger stars, and try to make things even more exciting the second time around, with mixed success. Trying to ride the crest further, the same filmmakers try to make a second sequel, amping things up even higher yet, usually to a now-delirious effect. By the time we’ve arrived at any series’ part 4, the thesis of the original film has been lost, the filmmakers are spending less and less and making less and less. We are now in the mentality of a “series.” This is, critically, often called The Law of Diminishing Returns. We are now free to judge the films as a single unit, and can easily make base comparisons.
I will attempt, with The Series Project, to critique a given film series entire, dwelling not just on the single installments of a given franchise, but on the series as a whole, and what it seems to say to us when the well is either dry or bottomless.
For such an ambitious project, I must have some criteria.
Rule 1: The film series must have at least five parts. This way I can get out of reviewing series that have a solid three parts, and then a fourth is dragged, unduly, back into the light for a sort of tired encore (think of “Indiana Jones,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Die Hard,” “Jaws,” and “Rambo”). By the time a series reaches part 5, we’re deep into the thick of things, and it is only then the series deserves the kind of analysis I intend.
Rule 2: At least two of the chapters in the series must have had a theatrical release somewhere. This means that straight-to-video series like “Puppet Master” are out. Films that had a few theatrical originals, and then several straight-to-video-sequels are, however, in. Unfortunately for me, that means the “Air Bud” movies are still in.
Rule 3: There must be some sort of central, canonical throughline to the series. A single villain, hero, or group of people. That means either remakes or so-called “spinoff” movies are out. The “American Pie Presents” movies do not count as “American Pie” movies. Ditto for “Tales from the Crypt.” Rob Zombie’s 2007 version of “Halloween” is not, canonically, part of the “Halloween” series. This rule also relieves me of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” I may, possibly, make an exception to this rule for the “Batman” movies (1966-present).
Rule 4: No James Bond. There’s no logic to this rule. It’s just that the sheer number of James Bond movies, and the frequent rotation of 007s, is too daunting for me. I will gladly take on Santo or Zatoichi (they, at least, have a modicum of esoteric iconoclasticism), but Bond is out.
Rule 5: I will take seriously any suggestions from you, the reader. I have many ideas with which to start this project, but perhaps you have some ideas for me. Did you need an in-depth word about the “Planet of the Apes” movies? Suggest it. Did you merely want to torture me with “Leprechaun” sequels? Suggest that as well. Keep in mind, though, that I have full veto power. I’ll just have to give a reason.
Let’s get to serializing.