Do belated sequels work?

As Scream 4 picks up the story over a decade since the last film, Simon salutes the principle of the belated sequel, but wonders if this is to be Hollywood’s next big trend…

Scream 4

Next month, a decade after it last left our screens, the Scream franchise is returning to cinemas, with Scream 4. This is no reboot of sorts, either, as the original gang is all in place. Wes Craven is directing, Kevin Williamson has written (most of) the script, while Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox are all back before the camera.

Yesterday, meanwhile, it was revealed that Universal was pressing ahead with a proper American Pie 4, which will arrive in cinemas nearly a decade after the first film. The original directors are on board in a producing capacity, and pretty much all of the original cast are back, too.

This points to an increasingly popular trend within Hollywood, and one that I personally think I prefer to the idea of a reboot. Basically, it’s the belated sequel.

Generally, the reason studios look to do this now is twofold. The first is, obviously, cash, and the second is that the DVD market has kept older films fresher in our minds for longer. Thus, it’s not so tough a sell to dig a ten-year-old film or older out of the back room. And as audiences get tired of seeing franchises rebooted (although that’s not a trend going away anytime soon), this is, simply, another option for the film studios.

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I’m personally quite looking forward to Scream 4. Appreciating that the production has been beset by stories of behind the scenes problems, I liked all three of the original films (yep, even the third), and given how the world of horror has changed in the time since Scream 3 was made, it’s a franchise ripe for returning to. In fact, in this instance, I think that the added time between films is likely to be a help (Toy Story 3 is the best example of this so far). As has been pointed out elsewhere, Scream 4 can have a lot of fun with the likes of Saw, Facebook and Twitter. And I hope that it does.

But still, even though I generally like the idea of a sequel over a cheap reboot, there’s little getting away from the fact that belated sequels generally don’t fare very well. Even if they perform commercially well, they rarely match the spirit, fun or quality of the original films.

Few, for instance, would argue that the prequel Star Wars trilogy could hold much of a torch to the first three films, and once more we’re left observing that the near 20-year gap between Indiana Jones 3 and 4 should have been a lot, lot longer.

Yet, you don’t have to look far for further examples of unimpressive belated sequels. The Godfather: Part III, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles (which we have a soft spot for), Exorcist: The Beginning and even Superman Returns were all a long time coming, and ultimately didn’t do much for their respective franchises. In most of those cases, the motivation for making a new film wasn’t really continuing the story, rather riding the coattails of previously successful franchise (which makes me further fear Ghostbusters 3).

Outside of Pixar, only Sylvester Stallone, of late, seems to have beaten the curse of the overdue sequel. Both Rocky Balboa and Rambo were interesting entries in their respective fields, and performed commercially well, too.

I can’t shake the feeling, though, that this is a trend in its infancy, and I fear that my interest may dissipate in due course. Still, done intelligently, taking time between sequels has its advantages. Tron: Legacy has its share of detractors, but those who do warm to it enjoy the logical links between the two films. There’s The Last Picture Show to Texasville, which has some merit. But me? I’d point you towards The Two Jakes, the sort of follow-up to Chinatown. And while it never hits the heights of that film (and in some quarters was disliked just for attempting to be a sequel to such an iconic film), it’s actually got a lot within it to recommend it.

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Scream 4, at the very least, should be fun. But if it’s successful (and lest we forget, Scream 5 is already in the planning stages), expect many more franchises to suddenly get a fresh jolt of life this way.

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