Monday, December 11, 2006

The Power of Threes

Tess and I are deep into our annual Lord of the Rings fest. We got so hooked on the films as they were coming out to the theaters (always at the holidays) that we turned the end-of-the-semester weeks into a gluttony of Ringdom. We have the special editions, too, so we can easily stretch the three films into 6 or 8 nights of mind-numbing relaxation.

As we near the completion of Return of the King, I got to thinking about the overall awesomeness of film trilogies, and decided to vamp a little on the subject of threes...

1) The original Star Wars films: I don't know if these represent the first EVER cinematic trilogy, but they certainly stand for that to anyone my age. Grand in scope but simple in story, these set the bar by which all other trilogies will be measured. The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite, the so-called "dark" movie of the set. I like the pacing of this film, the unsettled and incomplete ending (when A New Hope could easily have been the ONLY film with that happy-go-lucky ending), and the pacing of events. Lots unfolds during this one, all of which needs resolution in Return of the Jedi. The last (and maybe best) interesting thing about the trilogy is that, unlike many 3somes on this list, it is INTENDED to be a single story told over the course of 3 films.

2) The prequel Star Wars films: poor 70s fanboys kept clamoring for this prequel installment, and Lucas delivered. Then, those selfsame fanboys proceeded to rip Lucas a new asshole. I don't get it...those movies are GREAT! When someone in his 30s complains that the new movies just don't compare to the originals, I say: "No shit, Sherlock! You're not 10 frickin' years old anymore!!" People bitch about Jar-Jar, who I think is funny as a stitch and fills in the goofy straight-man role until Threepio can actually come online and resume that part. People bitch about all the gooey love scenes between Anakin and Padme, when I think those are necessary to develop the plot concept that he becomes Darth not out of hate, but of LOVE. I think that plays well into his redemption by Episode VI. I dunno...when I watch Star Wars now, I'll always start with Episode I and work my through chronologically, which I think is what Lucas intended. They'll play VERY well for a very long time.

3) Indiana Jones: great in concept and keeping with the swashbuckling adventure of the 40s-era serials that fed Lucas' and Spielberg's appetites. The first is arguably the best, with the strongest plot and best interaction between characters. Temple of Doom is unsettling to me as it happens chronologically before the first film, and I find Short Round to be of supreme with Batman, I just don't see Indy as a take-a-young-boy-as-your-ward kind of a guy. We're back INTO the timestream with Last Crusade, but Sean Connery steals every scene he's in. I know that there's a 4th installment in pre-production, and I think it'll work IF Spielberg/Lucas update it to show that Indy has aged and move him forward in time so that instead of fighting Nazis, he's fighting communists.

4) The Matrix trilogy: set up in almost exactly the same way as Star Wars, in which the first movie could easily have stood as a single film should it bomb, with the 2nd installment being the "dark" cliffhanger which leads to resolution in the 3rd film. As with Empire, I like the 2nd film best here, although the conceptual introduction in the 1st is quite cool. The first time I watched The Matrix I thought it was actually pretty dumb...full of obvious and clich├ęd religious symbolism. Keanu Reeves has a very flat acting style, which plays well for the emotionless Neo but also sets him a little back when he NEEDS to find that (supposedly) deep emotion he feels for Trinity. These are good "grading movies" for me: I can pop them in, in order, on a snowy Sunday and plow through theory and ear training tests for hours.

5) Terry Gilliam set: okay, okay, I know that The Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen aren't really a trilogy. As a director, Gilliam did a lot of the Python films, as well as some one-offs (like Jabberwocky) before The Time Bandits. However, I really feel like these three films belong together in terms of vision, scope and ideology. While each explores different sociological quandries (from within the context of very different settings), they still seem to represent Gilliam working out what HE feels about modern society. You need a feel for these films, as they all run a little long and can seem to wander if you're not into the overall concept. Of the three, I quite like Brazil and the way modern society, with all its paperwork and silly "norms", is roasted. An odd cameo role by Robert DeNiro makes it a very entertaining film.

6) Die Hard films: not really a trilogy as much as a hit movie, a sequel, and ANOTHER sequel. Heaven help me, I do adore Bruce Willis, though; I've been watching his stuff since the days of Moonlighting. Remember that show? Pretty awesome; one of the first shows to have an actual "series finale" that I can remember. ANYWAY, I think these action films hold their own. Willis' character John McClaine is a wrong-time/wrong-place cop who always manages to save the day...usually with the delivery of a horrible pun while he's wasting bad guys. More good grading films.

7) X-Men franchise: I was never a big fan of the X-Men comix, but comic book MOVIES...well, those I gotta see. These went over really big, mostly because of the spot-on Wolverine created by Hugh Jackman. They're solid films, if not not my favorites. I think a team-oriented film will ALWAYS be harder than a solo superhero film, if only because you still have to cram all those origin stories somewhere near the beginning. This is one of the first examples I know of where fans actually played a part in the casting: Wizard magazine had this long-running feature entitled "Casting Call," wherein the editors would assemble a dream cast for a particular comic book franchise. Lo and behold if Patrick Stewart wasn't cast as Professor X way back when.

8) Spider-Man: NOW we're talkin'!! The comic book movie that saved comic book movies, the first Spider-Man delivered the goods so powerfully that it remains the 7th highest-grossing film of all time. Outstanding casting, great GREAT special FX, and above all, an equal portrayal of the human side of all the superhuman characters. Director Sam Raimi (a comic geek himself) felt very strongly that all of the characters needed to remain believable on the human level, which is a concept that differentiated Marvel Comics from their distinguished competition back at the dawn of the Silver Age. Spider-Man 2 upped the ante in terms of action and effects, and with the third (final?) installment opening on May 4th, the best trilogy in comic film history will be complete. Yowza!

9) Lord of the Rings omnibus: and so, we come full circle. Peter Jackson brought to life on the silver screen a story that had long been thought impossible to film, something that had only been done as a cartoon. If you're not already a fan of the books, the movies probably seem like a lot of walking, walking, walking...and then throwing a ring into lava. Each time I watch them, though, I pick up new little nuances that prove to me all over again how special these films are. I honestly think Jackson took movie storytelling to a new level, and defined the fantasty/adventure film genre for at LEAST a generation. I'm not sure how movies will move beyond this point, to be honest. We probably said that about the Ray Harryhausen special FX in movies like Sinbad and Clash of the Titans as well, but eventually things DO get more realistic. The thing about LOTR, though, is that they're NOT just special FX scenes empty of plot or character development, like Van Helsing or Underworld tended to be. This is moviemaking at its finest, and I think this trilogy will remain our end-of-semester extravaganza for many years to come.


Blogger Steph said...

Eric and I have the exact same tradition with LOTR. The problem is that whereas we used to just rent them every December, we bought them a few months ago and watched them all in early November, so watching them all AGAIN would seem kind of gross and decadent. But you know, we'll probably do it anyway. I have a lot of scarf-knitting to get done in the next week, and I can't honestly think of a better accompaniment.

4:40 PM  
Blogger L*I*S*A said...

I heart the Matrix. My fave is the first one in the series. I could listen to Lawrence Fishburne soliloquies over and over again ad nauseam and still find something new in each phrase.

Love it.

Love Neo.

Love the concept.

I'd take the red pill.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Nitmos said...

No argument with your list. I would have to add one more addition: The Godfather trilogy. Sure part 3 was a bit of a clunker but, for my money, parts I & II were as good as any movie made. Even if you score part three an "E" (I personally would give it a C-), the combined average would still be pretty high.

No love for Jurassic Park either? Again, 2 out of 3 weren't bad...

4:20 PM  
Blogger Animal said...

Good additions, and I completely agree with your grading of "Godfather III."

1:57 PM  

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