Thursday, January 08, 2009

2 II or not 2 II?

I watched French Connection II a couple of days ago, and it occurred to me that it might be the earliest incidence of a Roman numeral being appended to a sequel. I think Quatermass 2 might be the first numbered sequel, period.

Personally, I prefer the James Bond approach when it comes to sequels - a unique name for each film. Imagine if the producers had gone the other route, and Dr. No had been called James Bond, followed by James Bond II, III, etc. James Bond XXII doesn't look nearly as good on a marquee as Quantum of Solace. Everyone understands that Chinatown and The Two Jakes are connected narratives; how lame would Chinatown II have been? It sounds like a new subdivision.

Sometimes a numbered sequel makes sense. Not only was Quatermass 2 the second film in the series, it's also the name of a rocket in the film, Quatermass' second ship. Robocop 2 employed a similar conceit.

But French Connection II is, well, just a convenient, marketing-friendly name for the sequel to a popular film. This is how it goes with a lot of sequels - tack a number after a brand, and bam, you're good to go. Sometimes it makes sense, but other times you wind up with abominations such as 2 Fast 2 Furious or TR2N. (How do you even say that? "Tr-too-n?"?)

Take the Superman films. Superman was followed with II, III and IV, subtitled The Quest for Peace. Superman is at least as recognizable as James Bond - there's no excuse for lazy titles like these.

Superman II featured three Kryptonian bad guys who survived the explosion of Krypton thanks to Superman's dad, who had thrown them into the Phantom Zone (read: "space jail") before the planet blew up. So in a sense, Jor-El was a father-figure not just to Superman, but to the three villains; he gave them deliverance from doom, if accidentally.

The three villains dressed in black for the entire film, and they had all of Superman's amazing powers. However, being villains, they used their powers for evil. Superman II could have been called, say, Dark Legacy, and marketed thusly, aping the Bond style:

"He saved his only son from a doomed planet..."

"But Earth's greatest champion wasn't Jor-El's only legacy..."

"Christopher Reeve is Superman - the Man of Steel - in Richard Donner's..."


In French Connection II, Popeye Doyle, the protaganist of the first film, continues his obsessive pursuit of an elusive French drug lord. Doyle steamrollers over all opposition to pursue his goal, but on the way he winds up getting hooked on heroin himself. Since the film is about obsession, and the drug comes in the form of white powder, the film could have been called White Whale, with a nice double meaning.

In Superman III, Clark returns to Smallville, rekindles an old romance, and faces (of course) kryptonite. If the producers could have seen the future, they could have stolen a great episode title from Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman - "The Green, Green Glow of Home."

What about films that take their titles from TV shows? Star Trek is the first example that comes to mind, and the first film in its big-screen series was called Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

That is a terrible name for a movie - at least from an artistic perspective. The original story was called "In Thy Image," an evocative title that would have been a far better fit for the film's ponderous dignity. At the very least, they should have just called it Star Trek - we know it's a motion picture, there's no need to hit us over the head with the information. At least the new movie is going that route. (But then, what choice did they have? Were they going to call it Star Trek: The New Motion Picture?)

Sequel or not, a film's title is an integral part of the work, as important to the feel of the piece as any other facet of the art. I wish more producers would recognize that.


Anonymous said...

I still get the occasional wierd crash looking this blog - nobody else is affected, eh?

Superman II was filmed partially as Superman I was in production. The producers gambled that they could save costs by piggy-backing the production of the second film on top of the first. It's the old "two can live as cheaply as one" ploy, seen from time to time in films like The Lord Of The Rings and Back To The Future (the one has separate titles thanks to the books, the other uses Roman numerals, as there was no series of Marty McFly epics to base the screenplay on).

Unfortunately for the Man Of Steel, the optical effects blew the budget of both films, so the crew concentrated on getting I in the can and crossed their fingers that it would earn enough money so as to finish II. Otherwise, the films may have been released back-to-back within weeks or days of one another, in which case calling the films I & II would probably have worked out better (if anybody else minds any more, that is).

In any case, II suffers from budget strain, where some of the effects and set stages are on the cheap side, while other parts of the film shine. I shares some of the same problems, but not as much. When watching II, you can maybe sort of see where the production fits with the style of I, and then where it diverges because a different, cheaper crew was employed to finish the film.

Earl J. Woods said...

Indeed, and a very good point. If you haven't already, you should watch the newly available Richard Donner Cut of Superman II - it's out on DVD and Blu-Ray. Frankly, I think it's a significant improvement over the original Superman II, although you'll find yourself experiencing some weird cognitive dissonance while watching the film. In order for the new cut to work, certain events in the first movie had to have happened in different ways, and all that retroactive continuity is left to the viewer's imagination, since the producers didn't go to the trouble of creating an alternative cut of the original film to match the revised sequel.

Not sure what's causing the crashes you're experiencing - sorry about that!

MikeTotman said...

At least Die Hard tried a little (though only starting as subtitles, and once it was more established):
Die Hard
Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Die Hard With a Vengeance.
Live Free or Die Hard

Of course, that becomes a strain to keep the flow going, so it's a limited trick, but I appreciate the effort.

I actually thought "2 Fast 2 Furious" was at least a little more creative than "Fast and the Furious 2".

ZeeBride said...

I agree that including "The Motion Picture" in the title of the first Star Trek movie is a bit ridiculous. However, I'm not convinced that "In Thy Image" would have done well to sell the movie. As a written title, fine, but try saying it out loud and it sounds pretty poncy to me.