THE SEQUEL DOUBLE-STANDARD
As each new Sue Grafton novel rolls out, there’s delighted applause among Kinsey Millhone fans.
As each new “Fast and Furious” movie sequel rolls out, there’s derisive snickering about the lack of new ideas in Hollywood.
After a long hiatus, there was applause among readers when Stephen King finally finished the “Dark Tower” series.
When it was announced a few years back there would be a sixth installment in the hugely popular “Rocky” series, there were groans.
What’s going on here? It sort of seems like there’s a double-standard when it comes to an audience’s acceptance of sequels in books versus sequels in movies. Book sequels – YAY! Movie sequels – BOO!
Writers trying to break into publishing are encouraged to look at writing books with potential to become a series. Publishers love series because readers love series, we’re told. “The Cat Who…” mystery books. The Hunger Games. The multiple Nora Roberts series. Any romance writer’s stuff for that matter. Readers can’t get enough.
But if you write a movie sequel, well, you’re just cashing in on a popular original, not trying to tell a good story on its own. The sequel is never as good as the original, they say. But we still buy ticktets. We put our money down, and we complain. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull” was a hugely anticipated sequel. It got a lot of criticism, as sequels do, but sold a lot of tickets, so Hollywood is happy.
There are exceptions, of course. Fans generally consider “Star Trek II” to be better than “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. But by “Star Trek VI”, the series was finished. “Star Trek the Next Generation” only made it four movies. The “Back to the Future” trilogy is very popular, but the second installment is just seen as a bridge to the third.
On the other hand, Sue Grafton has written more than fifteen Kinsey Millhone books. There are two dozen “Cat Who” books. Nora Roberts has published more than two dozen different series of books.
But then there’s a third category: the successful book AND movie franchises. We’re talking about Harry Potter here, of course. And the Lord of the Rings. What’s different there, maybe, is these franchises were, by design, multi-part events. Harry Potter was always going to be seven books and seven* movies (yes, Deathly Hallows, the movie, was two parts, but they’re both from the same books). The Lord of the Rings was always a trilogy. The movies, also, were great on their own, but undoubtedly benefitted from being based on wildly popular books. Would “Fellowship of the Ring” or “Harry Potter” become as iconic if they’d been films only, never books? That may be a topic for another blog.
Plus, these stories were told as multi-parters from the start. Every Rocky movie, however, was just another episode dreamed up to put the Italian Stallion back on the screen because it was fun – and profitable. (By the way, that last Rocky movie was way better than I suspected it would be.)
So, if there is a double standard, then why? Are book writers just better at writing sequels? Books are a different medium (duh), but is it a better medium for sequels?
I think maybe reading a book feels more…intimate, lile something more is going on in your head. Movies give you a visual landscape and put an actor’s face on the hero’s body; but its someone else’s interpretation of a story -either script alone or script by way of a novel – not your own interpreration. With books, you’re free to interpret the words however you want, so it feels more personal, more yours.
Books make you do the work; you form the images in your mind. Maybe once you’ve seen the first movie, you’ve gotten the full experience of that screenwriter’s/director’s vision. Maybe by movie 2 or 3, you feel like you’ve seen it already. Even if every book features the same characters and similar events, our minds can make it feel new. Maybe in book one, the hero is played in your head by Tom Hanks and in book two by Benedict Cumberbatch. Whatever.
So, the next time you read my blog posts, I hope you imagine me as David Tennant. The experience will be fresh and new even if the writing isn’t. That’s what I’m doing.