Let’s invent a vague movie. It was the film you’ve always wanted to see, bursting with the elements that make you want to leap out of your seat and applaud. On the drive home, you’re chatting about it feverishly. That night, you’re lying in bed, replaying your favorite moments. Weeks and months later, it’s still stuck inside your brain. You bring it up fairly often. You’ve carried its impact and meaning with you long after you left the theater.
Then you find out they’re making a sequel. The characters, story, and/or universe (setting) will be pushed another two hours. Just like that, those responsible for the original work now have the opportunity to expand on what you appreciated about it while also running the risk of taking away a bit, some, or all of the reasons it meant so much in the first place. Given the fact that many of us rely on the truths and understandings we pull from all facets of artwork to navigate life, the idea that it could be ruined in one fell swoop is a decidedly scary concept.
There’s a clear difference between, “I really enjoyed that book,” and “That book changed my life.” Two lines in a poem can make you reevaluate how you see other people. A painting can suck you in so deeply that it never quite lets you leave. A TV show can have such profound rewatchability that you can subconsciously adopt some of the characters’ most attractive personality traits. A song can open up your spirit, allowing you to escape to another place and time without opening your eyes.
Art’s ability to impact anyone on any level for innumerable reasons creates a situation replete with pitfalls. Just like time travel, you never know how one change to a beloved story can alter its trajectory in the future or its meaning in the past–especially to you personally.
You know how someone can ask a writer to clarify the meaning of a book or poem? Some authors choose not to answer, allowing the reader to decide its meaning at an individual level. Some do answer, and often, it doesn’t match what you gained. Sure, you can move forward, clinging to your initial impression, but it’s impossible not to be aware of the fact that you were wrong. That initial impression could have meant a lot. It could have dictated a relationship, an adventure, a calling. Now, it seems like a lie, even if your misunderstanding was for the better. That can hurt.
When studios create a movie and make a sequel, it isn’t done in a vacuum. They are not simply making a movie, they are contributing to a larger piece of artwork and building a continuous story. That makes it very challenging not to dilute the quality of the original with the second or third or however many there will be. “Wait, that’s where the story went? The characters did what?! If that’s in the universe, then why- Dammit. This sucks.”
Yes, it does, hypothetical person reacting with dismay to a fictitious sequel.
If all you said was: “I loved The Matrix,” I would have to assume you loved The Matrix trilogy, not the 1999 film specifically. And you can’t watch the 1999 film without acknowledging that the other two exist. If Neo had died at the end, and the second film opened with his resurrection, you could potentially consider it a standalone. But he flies away, which absolutely demands a sequel. And though the first movie was brilliant and shaped my perception of reality’s potential, particularly at such a formative age, it was largely tainted by the second two, which effectively ruined the entire premise. And that sucked.
(We’ve also seen the opposite happen. The Fast and the Furious franchise got better after the fourth installment, with the fifth, sixth, and seventh movies scoring 77%, 69%, and 79% on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively. The overall body of work is now pretty worth watching. But that’s an exception to the rule.)
Creating a sequel doesn’t inherently mean that the overall value will be negatively affected. Instead, the trepidation that comes from “it could” is proof of how much movies and other creative output can mean to us. Why else would we care if a sequel was coming out? Why would groups of people become actively enraged when a beloved film’s basic formula is changed? Or wait in line for hours, even days to see the next in the series? Why else would we be so disappointed when the sequel isn’t up to par with the original and, by default, takes away our overall appreciation?
The fact is that films become a part of who we are. Films can serve as a sort of cinematic mantra, underpinning our overall life philosophy and guiding how we see everyone in our lives (just ask the red-pillers). To borrow the parlance of marketers, movies become part of our personal brand, signaling to others our artistic tastes, outlook on life and even who we might associate with.
Ultimately, I think that’s a beautiful and powerful thing. Even if we’re left feeling disillusioned, at least we’re feeling something. That’s what imagination is all about. Whether it’s a dream come true or the manifestation of a nightmare, at least we live in a time when we can feel something, anything, whenever we feel like it, about the art that intertwines so thoroughly into our lives. Goddammit do I love movies. And goddammit do I love when a sequel makes it even better. We have to take the good with the bad. That applies to everything, but especially to creativity and the freedom of expression.