Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Unfinished Trilogy Tribulations

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, we saw a spate of pretty good sequels to popular popcorn films, that never yielded third installments. There was a "Ghostbusters 2" but no "Ghostbusters 3." Bill and Ted had an "Excellent Adventure" and a "Bogus Journey," but stopped the time-traveling hijinks there. Probably the most famous stymied franchise was "Terminator," after "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" became the highest grossing film of 1991. I'd also add "Predator," "Gremlins," "Conan," and "Short Circuit" to the list of two-film franchises that had the goodwill for more sequels, though I probably liked their second installments more than most. Of course it's not hard to see why the creative minds behind them stopped when they did. The cinema landscape was littered with horrible "Part III" films at the time, from "Superman III" to "The Karate Kid, Part III" to "Poltergeist III" to "Exorcist III." There's a good chance that these two-film franchises avoided fueling more cinema disasters.

And yet here we are, twenty years later, and "Ghostbusters 3" and a third "Bill and Ted" movie both exist in script form. Though there are still big roadblocks in the way, namely Bill Murray and Keanu Reeves, there's growing support for moving ahead with new sequels. After all, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" was finally made back in 2003 and promptly cleaned up at the box office. And with the wave of 80s nostalgia currently hitting Hollywood, now seems like the perfect time to finally cap off some much-beloved franchises of our youths and complete their unfinished trilogies. But wait a second. Why are "Ghostbusters" and "Bill and Ted" assumed to be unfinished in the first place? "Ghostbusters 2" and "Bogus Journey" had happy, definite endings. Why are these the franchises that are being readied for another sequel, decades after the first two films, instead of remakes? "Predator," "Conan," and "Short Circuit" have gotten new versions, or will be getting them shortly. Nobody argued that they were missing their "Part III" films.

Well, the "Ghostbusters" and "Bill and Ted" sequels are better remembered and beloved than the others, and many fans have been waiting a very, very long time for the second sequels they always assumed were coming. Rumors of "Ghostbusters 3" were in circulation in one form or another for years, while there weren't many people who cared whether we were getting another "Short Circuit" or not. And frankly, nobody wants to see these series remade. They've become too iconic to be touched. A "Ghostbusters" film with someone besides Bill Murray playing Peter Venkman? Perish the thought. It would be like someone other than Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones - probably why that series opted to go for a sequel as well. "Bill and Ted" is more of a cult film, sure, but one that was such a product of its time, there is no way to modernize it without compromising its surfer dude charms. If you're going to make another of these movies, there's the sense that it has to be the missing third installment.

Also, there's a certain cultural cachet that's developed around the big popcorn trilogies of yore, like "Indiana Jones," "Back to the Future" and "Star Wars." It's a very appealing notion to be able to elevate the likes of "Ghostbusters" into their company by thinking of those two films from the 80s as parts of an unfinished trilogy, even though they were certainly never meant to be. And at this point, there's no danger of a quick, cheap, cash-grab sequel that so many of those older "Part III" films were. If we get a third "Bill and Ted" movie, there's a much better likelihood that they're going to do it right with a decent budget.

Of course, the big question remains - do we need a "Ghostbusters 3" or a "Bill and Ted's Radical Walkabout"? No, of course not. Even if they made third films, you couldn't really turn the existing franchise films into proper trilogies at this point. You'd just have the first two films and what amounts to a reunion special. But having new films aren't going to hurt the older ones, just like "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" didn't ruin the reputation of the original "Indiana Jones" trilogy. If the new films are terrible, we'll just quietly forget about them, like the "Psycho" sequels and "The Blues Brothers 2000."

However, it would be fun to see the "Ghostbusters" gang together again. If they can't get Bill Murray, maybe they could lure Rick Moranis out of retirement for a little while. And though we've lost George Carlin, maybe Ringo Starr or Alec Baldwin could fill in as Rufus's cousin on Bill and Ted's next adventure - yes, that reference was for you, 80s kids.

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