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Can a Sequel Spoil the Original Film More Than a Remake?

So, the rights to Blade Runner have been sold. However, us on-line film nerds are being told to breathe easy, because the rights that were sold explicitly do not include the option to remake or “reimagine” or “reboot” the classic Ridley Scott film. However, is that really that much of a comfort? Surely a terrible sequel can tarnish an original film just as much as a terrible remake?

Concept art from Blade Runner by Syd Mead

I should probably qualify this with an observation. A terrible remake obviously tarnishes an original source material be association, but I’m not convinced that the damage is ever critical. The downright awful Starsky & Hutch film didn’t necessarily ruin the television show for its fans. I was disappointed with Michael Mann’s big screen Miami Vice, but I still love the eighties television show as one of the great leaps in television style (one which defines the medium into the present day). The classic version of The Wicker Man is not made any weaker a film because Nicolas Cage once delivered the line, “oooh no! not the bees!” with the dramatic earnestness of a second-year production of Death of a Salesman.

Admittedly, I can’t help but think of these awful remakes when I watch the original, but I don’t think you could argue that this “ruins” it for me. Truth be told, the same sort of thing happens to me with sequels. As masterfully made as The Godfather is, I watch it knowing that any marathon is going to have to end with Godfather III. And it breaks my heart. I know that if I work my way through the grand Batman and the superb Batman Returns, the next movies chronologically are Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.

Concept art from Blade Runner by Syd Mead

I think they cast a shadow both directions. Part of it is my inner completest, the “box set enthusiast”, who wants to sit down and watch major movie marathons until my eyes bleed. However, part of it is due to my emotional connections to the characters involved in these sad affairs. I cared about Neo breaking free of the computer world in The Matrix – that’s why it hurt so much when he sat down with cast to discuss Introduction to Undergraduate Philosophy with the cast for two more movies. I felt Darth Vader’s redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi, so it hurt when he acted completely cardboard for the last two prequels.

I think that this is less of a concern with remakes, because there’s no sense that these are the same characters. So Christian Bale’s version of Batman is an entirely different iteration of the character than Michael Keaton’s. So it’s okay for me to love them both equally, in different ways. You get the strange sense that all they’ve accomplished and however much they’ve grown can’t be undermined by a single film. For instance, I really don’t care about The Sum of All Fears when I watch Patriot Games or Clear and Present Danger. It’s like it’s an entirely different Jack Ryan, so I really care less that he seems to be made entirely out of wood.

Concept art from Blade Runner by Syd Mead

Still, I’ll concede that there are other risks associated with reboots and remakes, which one need not concern themselves with for sequels or prequels. There’s that dull throbbing pain that exists outside the watching of the film itself – that feeling I get in the nether regions of my very soul that tells me somewhere somebody will choose to rent Gus Van Sant’s Psycho rather than the Hitchcock original just because it’s more “modern.” That hurts, and that stings. It’s what I like to call Toy Story syndrome” – the sense that the old and beloved family toy (Woody) is going to be replaced by the fancier battery-operated plaything (Buzz).

It’ll never happen to me, but it scares me that someone’s introduction to King Kong may come from the Peter Jackson movie rather than the original. The sense that somehow a classic version of a tale is rendered less definitive simply because it’s no longer the only one (and no longer the most recent one). It’s that feeling you get when your little kid sister doesn’t want to watch Winnie the Pooh anymore, but wants to watch Bratz: The Movie. It stings.

Concept art from Blade Runner by Syd Mead

Let’s be honest. Unless Ridley Scott himself were involved, there’s no way that a Blade Runner follow-up would appeal to fans. At its best, assuming that it was a great and entertaining film in its own right, it would only ever end up as a footnote in history – like 2010 did as a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. If it’s a bad film, it end up as something of an albatross around the original’s neck. From any creative standpoint, this looks like a lose-lose scenario, unless you’re counting on it surpassing the original. The only reason to make this film is because Tron: Legacy demonstrated that belated sequels to classic movies can make massive amounts of cash at the box office.

I think part of the nerdy frustration comes from the way that Hollywood so smugly rejected the film on initial release, as if it wasn’t good enough because it didn’t break records. Rather than recognising it as something of merit because it was a bold and unique film, it’s only getting this attention now because it has proved it can earn money in the long-term. I can understand a certain sense of bitterness – the studios dismissed the film when it wasn’t an over-night success, so it seems a bit cheeky now to expect to reap the rewards. If a true and genuine love was motivating this business strategy, we would have heard talks of this long ago.

Concept art from Blade Runner by Syd Mead

And never mind that Blade Runner already had an unofficial “side-qual” in the rather disappoint Kurt Russell film Soldier, written by the same screenwriter as the Ridley Scott classic – but without the charm or sophistication. Those who have seen it know what I’m talking about, and those who haven’t have better things to be doing than to seek it out. All that matters is that the last attempt to expand the Blade Runner universe, even if it was unofficial, was disappointing.

So, what do you guys think? Are you comforted by the thought that we won’t be asked to accept some random young up-and-coming Hollywood hunk as replicant-hunting blade runner Dekkard? Or is screwing around with the film’s universe just as grave a sin? Are you even a little bit excited about this news, or would you rather they left the classics alone?

5 Responses

  1. Maybe, just maybe, the sequel/prequel will be good. I mean, the current craze is ‘darker’ stories, ala THE DARK KNIGHT, so … maybe, just maybe …

    • Yep. Maybe. I think we’re all hoping that, if it is made, it’s good. Any involvement from Scott would be welcome, even if it was to make a note or two on the script. Still, experience tells us to beware.

  2. I suppose there is some potential there for a good sequel…..on the other hand, it could end up being a bit wishy-washy…not awful, but just ‘blah’.(<Astounding use of technical lingo). I wonder would they go wireless for a sequel. Video phones just aren't what they used to be.

  3. Originals are always better because no one knows what the movie is goin to be like or even about it.the only way i think a sequel can surpass an original is if the original is good but doesn’t have a lot of effects then the sequel could problably be better but that doesn’t happened a lot so originals rule!!!

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