The Direct to DVD movie sequel avalanche

The announcement of Deep Blue Sea 2 should be enough to send us to geek heaven. But it's the latest movie to be blighted by a straight-to-DVD sequel...

Deep Blue Sequel...

We’ve yet to meet a single person who hasn’t in some way been pulled in by the charms of Deep Blue Sea, a wonderfully entertaining blockbuster that we really need to watch again soon. So it was with some delight – albeit tempered – that we learned this morning of plans for a sequel to Renny Harlin’s crowd-pleaser.

The original, you may remember, was all about intelligent sharks, and featured a great moment where Harlin killed off Samuel L Jackson at precisely a point in the movie where it was the last thing you thought he’d do. Even writing about it now brings goosebumps to the arm.

The follow-up, tentatively titled Deep Blue Sea 2, will be out next year. But here’s the catch: it’s the latest in a production line of direct to DVD movies, this time from Warner Bros, who has already given us Lost Boys 2 this year. There’s no news on cast or director, but let’s assume that the budget is so miniscule, that the chances of LL Cool J or Thomas Jane coming back to do battle with some sharks is not great. Don’t expect Mr Harlin to be back behind the camera, either. There should be some sharks in it, though.

But then reuniting the original cast is never really the thinking behind these low-budget, direct-to-DVD projects. For Hollywood movie studios, increasingly burnt by the high cost of producing, marketing and physically releasing a feature film, are finding the straight-to-DVD market alarmingly lucrative. After all, you cut out most of the distribution costs, the budget tends to be slim, and when films are selling over a million copies as DVD premieres, then it doesn’t take a particularly talented accountant to work out that there’s some gold to be had there.

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It was Disney who stumbled on it first, of course. When, back in the early-ish 90s, the firm produced a direct to video sequel to Aladdin, entitled The Return Of Jafar, along with Beauty And The Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, it unwittingly became a catalyst to a new segment of the business that increasingly makes movie purists despair, while keeping the cash registers busy. The Return Of Jafar was a very profitable hit (just not a very good one), and since then, Disney has since gone on to make sequels to many of its animated classics. It wouldn’t be unkind to suggest that none of them have come anywhere near close to the originals they’ve been milking, and some even argued that it even cheapened the Disney back catalogue. That it’s a process that John Lasseter has severely curtailed since he arrived at Disney proper perhaps tells its own story.

That said, it’s a business that no movie studio can afford to ignore in the modern climate. Ask Universal, who has prolonged the American Pie cinematic trilogy by a further three films straight into the DVD market, each of which has deposited a good chunk of cash into the firm’s bank account. Even more modest box office hits, such as the cheerleader flick Bring It On, have enjoyed sequels, and there are now four Bring It On movies in total. Who’d have thought they’d make enough of those to put in a box set? The same applies to something like Beethoven, the shaggy dog story that’s now spawned more movies than the Die Hard saga.

Generally, straight to DVD sequels have little involvement from the key talent involved in the original films, but even that’s beginning to change. Eugene Levy was arguably the funniest thing in each of the American Pie films, and he’s turned up in all six of the movies to date. Casper Van Diem is back for Starship Troopers 3, in spite of skipping the first of the straight-to-DVD sequels. Rumours were even linking Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lungdren to a third Universal Soldier flick. At the very least, cheap sequel producers are realising, you may be able to get at least a cameo from someone involved in the original.

And it’s not just more talent that’s getting involved: the numbers involved are getting bigger, too. Warner Bros’ Lost Boys 2 has been a sizeable hit for the studio, so much so that a third firm is being moved into production right now. It’s raised fears of the third Gremlins film that was mooted once upon a time, and with Warner Bros intending to make at least ten films of this ilk every year, there’s surely not a franchise in its catalogue that’s safe. A Scooby Doo prequel is next.

The problem, though, is that very few of the films churning off this particular production line are proving to be very good. It’s an easy trick, to pick an old, popular movie – such as WarGames, for instance – and then churn out a vaguely related film that can be billed as a sequel (just look at the Cruel Intentions or Poison Ivy trilogies for evidence of that). Generally, there’s enough affection for the original property to make it worth the investment, and the buying public has shown its willingness to stump up a tenner on the off-chance that it’ll recapture the original magic.

But it never does, and arguably never will. Because the problem here is that if a film does display any sign that it’s going to punch above its weight, then it gets converted into a theatrical property anyway. The most obvious example of this is Pixar’s Toy Story 2, which was originally down to be a straight-to-DVD follow-up, before those concerned realised that it should be a fully-fledged cinema release.

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We’re as guilty as most, of course, of being intrigued by some of these films, and have sat through – particularly in the horror genre – more than our fair share. But let our lasting hope be this: please let Deep Blue Sea 2 be the one that injects hope into the direct to DVD sector. Because films as fun as the first one don’t deserve to join the growing queue of franchises that have been sullied by a cheap and easy sequel…

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