Attack of the Prequels. When you think of movie prequels, what are some of the first films that come to mind? For most, it would be Star Wars I-III by Lucasfilm. I’m sure you have heard the outrage of these witty prequels, but honestly, I can’t hate on them. These were the first films I saw in theaters growing up. I loved Darth Maul as a villain (and his double-edged lightsaber!?!?!?) and specifically remember dressing up as him for one Halloween.
Hollywood is making a killing off of prequels and sequels. And why? Maybe it’s fan dedication, maybe it’s the laziness of producers, or it could quite possibly that it rakes in the most money. Take this study from Cass Business School and Texas Christian University for example (info borrowed from newsmeant.com):
With their built-in fan base, sequels are seen as a safe bet in Hollywood. Now research by two academics–one at Cass Business School in London, the other at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business in Fort Worth–shows just how safe. The two studied the take for more than 100 movie sequels released from 1998 to 2006. Comparing those box-office numbers with what was earned by thematically similar standalone films shown around the same time, they found sequels generated an average 27% more revenue.
Squeezing every drop. Just because it will make a positive financial contribution doesn’t always mean that a movie will be worthwhile for audiences or the stories themselves. If we go back to the previous example of Star Wars, at least there was some hope for a prequel there. I mean, Jedis and the history of a rebellion, I’d pay to see that! But what about the more mundane films? The ones that call upon an average person to Die Hard?
There is a fantastic article in the Rolling Stone which speaks about the audacity of Hollywood and television producers to strip everything away from a series just to continue the flow of income. It was written in late 2015 and talks about the upcoming Die Hard: Year One that would feature a young John McClane and his history prior to his battles against fierce terrorists. We find David Ehrlich in mid-argument about the warranted death that these prequels bring:
The fans recognized something that Wiseman [the series’ producer] either couldn’t, or didn’t want to: A prequel isn’t a Hail Mary pass, when you’re six points behind, and there’s 12 seconds left on the clock. It’s what you try after you’ve already lost, the game is over, and the fans have all gone home. Prequels aren’t about resuscitating a franchise, they’re about embalming them. They don’t kill franchises so much as confirm which ones are already dead.
Despite what it’s title might suggest, Die Hard: Year One is not about John McClane’s time as an infant, but will instead focus on a younger version of the iconic action hero — played by a much younger actor, probably someone British — fighting crime in the late 1970s. The biggest problem here isn’t that a director couldn’t make a good movie of this if he tried; someone couldn’t make a good movie of this even if he wanted to. Central to the premise of the original Die Hard is that McClane, though a veteran of the police force, is in way over his head. He isn’t Rambo or James Bond, he’s just a stressed out New Yorker who wanted to go to the coast and have a few laughs. Deadline‘s story about the project observes that Wiseman’s film will show “How [McClane] became a die hard kind of guy,” but the original movie is about how McClane became a die hard kind of guy. That’s why it’s called Die Hard.-Rolling Stone
So sure, there are some tales and characters that warrant a backstory and attention craved by audiences. When it comes to rebellions and superheroes I will be the first on board to watch their stories told on the big screen. Although, at some point don’t prequels diminish the “coming of age” respect of the average person? Those with much more typical and regular backgrounds are easier for audiences to relate to. As regular characters are given more incredible prologues, the more it cheapens the ability to share a commonality. When we take the mystery and mundane out of our favorite stories we relinquish the capability to claim it as part of our own story. We eliminate the possibility for average people to overcome impossible feats.
What about you? Do you like prequels, and if so, which are your favorite?
Do prequels diminish the ability to relate to characters?