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Is ‘sequelitis’ consuming Western cinema?

When examining the immediate context of television and cinema, it is fairly straightforward to identify trends in theme and genre. In order to land a successful production, a certain amount of business sense is almost a prerequisite of filmmakers.

Is it really the demand of viewership which drives the incessant releases of franchise instalments? I find it difficult to understand how a romantic teenage dystopian science-fiction franchise can sustain four to five mainstream releases with adequate Box Office takings.

Who attends those screenings? In the vernacular of popular film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the number of “splats”  which are associated with blockbuster franchises frequently outweigh the triumphs.

Broadly generalising, for a moment – a high percentage of heavily-promoted, highly-publicised franchised films are large-scale budget-guzzlers. Could the funding involved in the development and production of these features not, surely, be allocated and distributed elsewhere?

Let us postulate, for a moment, that most franchise instalents are not equal to their prime predecessor. Should that be the case, it seems fatuous to muddy the legacy of well-received works by following them up with inadequately considered tokens.

The idea of the sequel is, ideally, to enrich the narrative canon developed within the first piece. It will quickly become apparent whether the sequel performs this function well or whether the feature is a vacuum, consuming all the viewer once enjoyed about the sequel’s predecessor, possibly even warping its original intentions.

There are, obviously, many sequels which match, and go beyond, the value of their precursor (even in the larger highly monetised franchises): Evil Dead II (1987), Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Before Sunset (2004), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), and the successful sequels such as those above have certainly made their mark independently on film history.

Would it be cynical, then, to say that most contemporary filmmakers create work in anticipation of one piece leading to the approval of further related releases in future? As a cinemagoer, nothing irks me more than momentarily identifying a ploy, by the director, to manipulate the audience to desire further narrative instalments.

When looking at films which fit into a wider cinematic canon, those features are frequently structured so as to give the audience a “micro-resolution”, but reserve a “macro-resolution” for future plots. In my early teens, I appreciated the sense of comfort this brought, in that it was almost certain, if you enjoyed the premier instalment of a franchise, there would be more helpings of the same dish a short time afterward. However, having seen a reasonable number of franchise features since then, I have developed all the symptoms of “franchise fatigue”.

As a viewer, the desire to see more of something you responded well to seems innocent, but the intentions of those who recognise and exploit that desire for profit are not.

We are self-aware adults, and we know exactly what the film industry is doing to us, and what it is making us do. I will probably see a sequel this year, but I will be sure to make a sincere effort not to enjoy it.

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