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Tinkers, Tailors: The Phantom of the Prestigious Sequel…

If rumours are to be believed, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is such a dramatic success that discussions have begun about a possible sequel, with Gary Oldman even chiming in that a follow-up might do well to adapt both The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People into a single film – reducing leCarré’s trilogy to a duology. Still, even if there’s only one more film produced, the news can’t help but seem a little strange: after all, it’s very intellectual material for a Hollywood franchise, isn’t it?

Every right to be Smiley...

Of course, Hollywood is increasingly scared of original ideas and falling further back on conventional moneymakers with sequels, reboots and adaptations all the rage. I can hardly see that impulse dying off when The Lion King 3D was able to defeat three new (and original) releases in its third week of release – this is a film almost two decades old, and it’s trouncing the opposition. Sure, it flattened the generic rom-com What’s Your Number?, but it also crushed the original and daring 50/50 as well. I can’t help but feel that audiences are moving past the point where we can blame the studios for producing “safe” and “generic” films.

On the other hand, I’m a staunch believer in the theory that being a sequel or a reboot or a remake isn’t something that immediately condemns a film to failure. Rise of the Planet of the Apes and X-Men: First Class were generally lauded among the best of the summer fare, despite being prequel franchise-launchers. Hell, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, one of the most anticipated movies of the autumn, is itself a remake of an earlier adaptation of a classic book. It doesn’t deserve to be rejected out of hand because Hollywood has used the idea before and, to be honest, I think a franchise built around Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a very interesting development – if only because it’s not generally the type of movie that spawns a series of films.

Bad form...

When we think of sequels, we think of films like The Dark Knight or Fast Five or Transformers: Dark of the Moon. In short, we tend to imagine the franchise as built around what might be dismissively termed “popcorn” cinema. I’ll concede that there are respected film franchises – the Bond films, for example, or Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings – but they are decidedly “pulp” entertainment, rather than more contemplative or intellectual fare. They are epic adventures where we follow our heroes into a new set of circumstances, and excitement is built around that.We don’t focus on the fact that the characters and plot are familiar, because it allows us to focus more clearly on the action or the set pieces, or the smaller elements tying together.

The fact that these movies are sequels doesn’t matter, because we’re not worried about seeing variations on a theme, or in pursuit of something original: we just want “more of the same.” Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom might not offer us anything new, but it uses our familiarity with the concept to offer us the setpieces that we’re interested in. The Hangover: Part IIis the exact same plot, but the jokes have been (mostly) swapped out – whether that’s enough for a satisfying film experience is a matter for the audience to decide.

It happened again... again...

So Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is quite a different beast. It’s not filled with action or dramatic confrontation. It’s about people talking and exchanging ideas. The games and challenges are all mental, rather than physical, and it seems to end on the observation that everything is completely and utterly pointless. The adventures of George Smiley may continue, but the film just spent two hours convincing us that they’re long and hard slogs rather than glamorous thrill rides. After all, if The Hangover gave us the same characters in the same plot with slightly different jokes, what will the sequel to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy give us? The same characters in the same locations having slightly different conversations?

That said, the idea of a sequel to a drama (rather than an action movie or a comedy or an adventure) isn’t a new thing. They’ve always existed, but they tend to get drowned out with all the news coverage of Sherlock Holmes 2 or Johnny English 2 or even a pre-emptive sequel to a blockbuster not out yet. After all, the most respected sequel of all time is The Godfather, Part II. Although it’s perhaps wisely forgotten, Chinatown produced its own sequel in The Town Jakes. Martin Scorsese directed The Colour of Money as a sequel to The Hustler. Hell, the recent Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy proved that there was room for a relatively mature and considered series of films, as did the celebrated Three Colours Trilogy.

A thrill-ogy...

Still, it feels very strange to see a movie like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy expanded out into a series of films. I don’t mean that in a bad way – I genuinely adored Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation, and it’s one of the gems of the year so far. It just isn’t a film that I would have pointed to at the start of the year and declared, “franchise launcher.” Perhaps that’s why it works so well. Green Lantern was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year, and one of the (countless) reasons was the way that it seemed to dedicate so much time to setting up a potential sequel that it didn’t really do that much for itself. Instead, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy might be an adaptation of the first book in a series, but it doesn’t ever seem like it’s waiting to expand – it’s just concerned, first and foremost, with being a good film.

Christopher Nolan has stated that he approached each of his Batman films individually, never necessarily banking on a sequel and certainly never holding anything back – he was so focused on ensuring that the film in question was the best that it could be. I think that should be the model for Hollywood, and that’s why this announcement seems so strangely satisfying. It seems strange that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy isn’t the kind of film that normally gets a sequel, but that is why it’s so great – the sequel was never considered a given, or even a “pass” grade for the film’s success. Alfredson and his cast earnedthat sequel, rather than receiving it as standard.

Doesn't take a lot of British Intelligence to figure out what went right...

I can’t help but think that Hollywood would be a better place if more films were developed along those sorts of lines – rewarding the remarkable accomplishments rather than being treated as a given.

4 Responses

  1. Green-lighting sequels sight unseen is a terrible idea. Most people aren’t against sequels, just the bad ones.

    • Amen on that. Green Lantern was hopefully proof of how bad an idea that was. And I feel bad, because there’s no excuse for that movie sucking as bad as it did.

  2. Finally got to see “Tinker, Tailor” and loved it. I’d hate to see them try to cram too much material into one film. There was already enough condensation going on with this one. Still, another Le Carre adaptation with the current cast would be excellent.

    • Yep, looking forward to it. It’s surreal to see so many “grown-up” movies spawning sequels and franchises, isn’t it?

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