Ask a Dork: Can a Sequel Ruin the Original Material?
“Can a sequel ruin the original material?”
Every sequel and franchise starts with one good piece of media that has successfully garnered the attention of a dedicated group of fans. That first film, comic book, video game, or album set the tone for what the franchise represents and usually stands as the benchmark by which all further entries are judged, but can a sequel really ruin the original material? I’d have to say no.
To demonstrate, I’d like to reference the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie. There was a lot that could have gone wrong in this series’ maiden voyage. Wes Craven was an unproven Director at the time, the studio was small and didn’t have much faith in the success of film, the budget was a measly $1.8 million (a producer’s nightmare), most of the actors had no prior acting experience, the script had been rejected numerous times, and the distribution deal fell through in the middle of production, but somehow the first in a long line of cherished horror films actually made it to theatres and was a major commercial success – catapulting both Wes Craven’s career and the studio’s industry status (in fact, New Line Cinema is often credited today as “The house that Freddy built”). In looking back on the series, the original film still stands as a fan favorite and the most well constructed in terms of hitting a balance between funny and freaky. The same cannot be said of the sequels.
A franchise’s brand is composed of all the media attached to it (books, films, video games, 1-800 numbers, television shows, radio shows, etc.). New Line Cinema made the unfortunate mistake of oversaturating the market with cheap Freddy memorabilia, nonsensical spinoffs, poorly constructed comic books, dumb video games, and expensive dial-in numbers. Before you could say 1-2-Freddy’s-Coming-For-You, he was everywhere and losing quality with each appearance. While there’s some appeal to the campiness of later entries in the franchise, any fan of the series will tell you that everything after the first three films is pretty much crap. In this case, poor sequels and spinoffs ruined a once profitable and highly-regarded franchise, but did nothing to damage the original material of the first film.
Another example is the first Resident Evil film. Resident Evil is a well established survival horror video game series with a very strong following and most of its fans had their first brush with with the franchise by playing the original game (or the exponentially more hilarious ‘Director’s Cut’). When it came time to turn the original game into a feature-length film, Director Paul WS Anderson completely ignored the original source material attached to the first video game and only lifted certain elements to be implemented in the film. Suffice to say, fans were pissed and the film wasn’t great (from both a film critic’s and video game adaptation point-of-view). I still resent the first Resident Evil film and while it had a detrimental effect on the overall quality of the franchise, the original video game that it was “based on” still remains a classic that I love to play on a regular basis.
At the end of the day no sequel, spin off, or random piece of media attached to original material is going to fundamentally damage that original content. Will it hurt the franchise as a whole though? I definitely think so.
You say that the first entry tends to set the tone, but curious do you know of any franchises/series that kind of do away with their first entry and have a later one set the tone.
Have 2 in mind, but curious your thoughts
The Evil Dead series comes to mind immediately.
While the first Evil Dead was purely a horror film and happened to stumble upon some dark humour unintentionally, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness deliberately play-up the ridiculousness of the situation and have an equal ratio of horror/humour (making them excellent genre films).
The same can be said about Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre took a minimalist approach to provide a sense of realism. In many respects, it felt more like a twisted documentary than a feature film. Its sequels did not take the same approach. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was framed as a full comedy and even the more serious later entries in the franchise had a hard time deciding whether they were dark comedies or torture porn.
While these both demonstrate how sequels can distort the original tone of the franchise, most long-running series fall in the footsteps of their originator.