The 8 Ball 03.05.13: The Top 8 Prequels
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 03.05.2013
From X-Men: First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 movie prequels of all time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Prequels
This week the biggest film of 2013 to date, Oz the Great and Powerful, hits theaters. Sam Raimi's prequel to Wizard of Oz is expected to do big business and pretty much destroy whatever tiny hopes Jack the Giant Slayer had of being a film with any kind of legs at the box office. The hotly-anticipated film is just the latest among many attempts by Hollywood to turn back the clock and tell the stories that took place before the original movies that introduced us to their characters and worlds. Prequels are often thought of as a new phenomenon but the truth is quite different; Hollywood was making prequels as far back as 1948 when Another Part of the Forest, the prequel to the 1939 film The Little Foxes, hit theaters. This week I thought we would take a look at the films where Hollywood made a successful follow-up film based on a story that came before the first.
Caveat: There is one very important caveat here and that is this: there is an enormous difference between a prequel and a reboot. Films like Batman Begins, The Amazing Spider-Man and Casino Royale are not prequels in that they do not follow the same continuity of the films they followed. (You can make an argument for the Bond films following the continuity but Judy Dench's M, particularly following the events of Skyfall, is a dealbreaker.) I debated long and hard about J.J. Abrams' Star Trek but that is both a reboot, a prequel and a sequel based on whose story you are looking at so I just played it safe and left it out. The important part of the rule is this: if the film does not significantly (notice the emphasis there) destroy a linear line of narrative continuity leading it directly to the first film than it counts as a prequel for this purpose.
Just Missing The Cut
Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) Prometheus (2012)
#8: Infernal Affairs II (2003)
First on our list is the film that has probably gotten the fewest viewers out of all the choices. Most people know Infernal Affairs as the film that Martin Scorsese remade into his Oscar-winning crime saga The Departed, but that does a bit of a disservice to the original film. And don't get me wrong here, folks; I love The Departed very deeply. But Infernal Affairs is the better film in my estimation, if only by a small measure. Directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak invest a little more into the characters, which are brought to life by Andy Lau and Tony Leung with fantastic performances. For the follow-up, Lau and Mak decided to dial it back and look at the two undercover moles, Lau and Chan, as they infiltrate their respective sides. The film is not as good as the first, in part because Edison Chen and Shawn Yue reprise their roles as the younger Lau and Chan and they just aren't as skilled of actors as Lau and Leung. But it does add new levels to the characters and creates more depth to people who were already captivating to begin with. If Scorsese wanted to remake this prequel as a companion to The Departed, I for one wouldn't mind one bit.
#7: Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom (1984)
Most people balk when you mention that Temple of Doom is a prequel. But those who love the Indiana Jones franchise know that the film does in fact take place in 1935, a full year before the events that kick off Raiders of the Lost Ark. Temple of Doomreceived a very mixed reaction among critics and filmgoers upon its release and there is certainly no denying that it is not as good of a film as Raiders; however, it is still a fantastically fun adventure that doesn't mind taking things in a darker direction than the first. Ford is paired up with Kate Capshaw as Billie Holiday and their antagonistic romantic tension, while not at the level of Marian Ravenwood, is still enjoyable and Jonathan Ke Quan is much less irritating than people accuse him of being as Short Round. The film still has the spirit of the franchise as a whole and some really thrilling sequences like the mine cart chase, the rope bridge and of course the unforgettable scene in which Amrish Puri's Mola Ram pulls a man's heart out of his chest while he's still alive, which caused quite a bit of controversy back in the day and largely led to the creation of the PG-13 rating. Temple of Doom is certainly not the best Indiana Jones film by a long shot (nor is it the worst...right, Crystal Skulls?), but even a mid-tier Indiana Jones film is a hell of a lot of fun.
#6: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
You can count me among the people who were extremely skeptical when it was announced that 20th Century Fox was planning to tell the origin story of Planet of the Apes. Perhaps it was the fact that Tim Burton's disastrously-misfiring remake was still percolating in my brain years after having seen it, or perhaps it was just being tired of prequels and reboots at this point but I saw absolutely no need to revisit the story, particularly from a time when the world wasn't actually being ruled by simians yet. The long and drawn-out development stage (during which the film was known as Caesar) and the revolving door of talent said to be involved didn't do much to inspire confidence, nor did the then-unknown Rupert Wyatt being attached as a director. Imagine my surprise when the film was a huge hit, and a damned good one to boot. James Franco is quite good as Will Rodman, the scientist whose best intentions lead the world down the first steps of the road toward a monkey-dominated hell and the story is smart without feeling the need to be condescending. The big thing that made this work, however, was the work of Andy Serkis in performance capture as Caesar. Many people feel that Serkis was snubbed out of an Oscar nomination because the Academy looks down at motion capture and I would be hard-pressed to disagree. The film lays out the framework of what will eventually come by the time that Charlton Heston crash-lands in impressive fashion and made future films both viable and potentially intriguing; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is currently set for next year and I'm looking forward to it.
#5: Red Dragon (2002)
Technically you could argue that this is a remake of Michael Mann's Manhunter, but in truth this is a prequel to the reboot that was Silence of the Lambs. A prequel to a reboot is still a prequel, so there you have it. The character of Hannibal Lecter has been in exactly as many good movies (Silence, Red Dragon) as bad ones (Hannibal, Hannibal Rising); it seems his cinematic tale is on the reverse trajectory of Star Trek, which has long been referred to as "the franchise where all the odd-numbered sequels are bad." On first glance if you looked at Red Dragon today without knowing a lot about it, you may not have a lot of confidence. The was directed by Brett Ratner, who is much reviled for running Rush Hour into the ground and desecrating the X-Men franchise (X-Men: The Last Stand), not to mention idiotic fare like Tower Heist. In 2002 however he only had one bad film to his credit in Family Man and he did a great job here. Red Dragon takes a look at Lecter's relationship with FBI agent Will Graham (played here with skill by Edward Norton), who are former allies until Lecter's crimes were discovered by him. He must then turn to the jailed doctor for help to track down a serial killer nicknamed the Tooth Fairy, who is played with supreme creepiness by Ralph Fiennes. Hopkins is typically great as Lecter and he works very well with Norton while Ratner does a great job building tension and suspense in this film. It is solid source material (so much so that it provides the inspiration for the upcoming NBC series) and Ratner turns it into a damned good movie.
#4: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Few prequels have been more anticipated than those for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. Jackson's trilogy of films is undoubtedly the pinnacle of high fantasy filmmaking and their esteem has remained almost untouchable since their release ten to twelve years ago. That being said, The Hobbit films were almost primed to fail right out of the gate. There was a strike against them right off the bat in the very regard for the LOTR films that made them anticipated in the first place; expectations were almost impossibly high for the follow-up. And the series of issues that popped up after (MGM's bankruptcy, lawsuits by the Tolkiens against New Line for profits from the first trilogy, Guillermo Del Toro signing on and eventually departing the project when it seemed near-dead, a pre-production dispute with International Federation of Actors and so on) made it seem as if the project was cursed. However, upon the first film's release late last year it became very obvious that all fears were for naught because Jackson deliver the film that we all prayed he was capable of giving us. Obviously there are still two to go and it could always go wrong from here but this first film is exceptional, with Martin Freeman making excellent Bilbo while Ian McKellan slips back into Gandalf with ease and the cast of dwarves are all very good. Jackson's film is nearly three hours but the near-perfect pace makes it fly by with nary a moment of drag. The action sequences live up to what we hoped for and all the elements are in play here, setting things up as a fantastic cinematic origin tale for Bilbo. No, it may not be as amazing as Fellowship of the Ring or Return of the King, but that is hardly criteria for a bad film.
#3: X-Men: First Class (2011)
Oh dear, here is where I might get some flack. Many people had complaints about the continuity between X-Men: First Class and the films that came later in the chronology and to be true, this is the film that led me to include the word "significant" in my caveat above. Matthew Vaughn has flat-out said that he made decisions that he thought made for a better movie--even if they caused a wrinkle or two in the overall continuity--rather than stay beholden to the past films in a way that would make First Class suffer. And let's be honest; are any of the moments in this film complete deal-breakers? Not really. Most of what some may consider more grievous errors come from things that Xavier relates in the first film or two, such as meeting Magneto when he was seventeen when they're clearly in their late twenties in First Class or when he says Magneto helped him build Cerebro when Beast built the prototype. These can be reconciled in the fact that Erik and Xavier quite possibly put together the Cerebro that will be found in the mansion and a little forgetfulness on Xavier's part regarding his age. In other parts, Vaughn was stuck in a rock and a hard place because the first three films (I'm not even including the wacky continuity of X-Men Origins: Wolverine) occasionally contradict themselves. Either way, the bumps in continuity are considered to be minor enough that Bryan Singer's Days of Future Past will be apparently bridging the films neatly in one step. Vaughn and Jane Goldman's script does what X-Men: The Last Stand failed to do in juggling multiple new characters without making any of them feel superfluous or unimportant while the cast almost uniformly delivers; James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender in particular continue their rises to stardom as Xavier and Magneto while Jennifer Lawrence is fabulous as Mystique and has a great chemistry not only with McAvoy and Fassbender but with Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy. A word of advice: ignore the minor continuity nitpicks (which are just about all explainable anyway) and enjoy this as a great prequel that is easily one of the top two films of the franchise so far.
#2: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Sergio Leone's Dollars/Man With No Name trilogy is considered a hallmark of the western genre and the absolute peak of the spaghetti western subgenre. For the third film in the trilogy Leone took things back to the Civil War and saw Eastwood's Man with No Name (going by "Blondie" in this one) hunting down Confederate gold against two other gunslingers. There is actually some debate about whether the film is truly a prequel, but the fact that the Man With No Name's costume that he wears in the other films gets gradually acquired here along with the film's Civil War setting versus the post-war setting of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More makes for a pretty solid grounding for the prequel argument. Good, Bad and Ugly is the pinnacle of Leone's masterful spaghetti westerns; it is epic in scope and regularly considered to be one of the greatest films of all time for very good reasons. Eastwood is the epitome of badass and he is well-matched with Wallace as Tuco and Van Cleef as Angel Eyes. This is everything you could possibly want from a spaghetti western and from a Man with No Name film; it and the rest of the franchise are so iconic than it made the "Man with No Name" label, which was used to describe a stock character in the genre, synonymous with Eastwood's role in a way that completely works. That would be the equivalent of a slasher film heroine taking the name of "Final Girl" from all the other slasher heroines, which is pretty unthinkable.
#1: The Godfather, Part II (1974)
What makes a prequel so compelling as a rule is its ability to show us what came before in an interesting way; it is the film's possibility to tell a compelling origin story. Truth be told, The Godfather, Part II is not solely a prequel but rather a sequel and prequel wrapped in one. However, the way that Francis Ford Coppola interweaves the stories tells the origin of the Corleone family in such a way that you perfectly understand why the family is the way it is during the more modern events of the other storyline. Robert De Niro takes the unenviable task of following in none other than Marlon Brando's footsteps and runs with it to exemplary success while Coppola's ability to tell the more complex structure makes the film's ambition work instead of collapsing in on itself. As you see Vito Corleone's rise juxtaposed with his son's further integration into the mafia, you understand both the family's meteoric rise and slow descent as perfectly as you possibly can. The Godfather, Part II is not only the greatest sequel of all time but the greatest prequel also. I can't imagine another film that would even have the balls to pull off both, much less succeed at it.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Nine (1971) Episodes Watched: 593 Last Serial Completed:Day of the Daleks - The Doctor and Jo are sent by UNIT to investigate reports of a ghost appearance in a house where a critical peace conference is being held that could prevent world war. Before long they are plunged ahead 200 years into a future where the Daleks reign supreme over Earth, with a small human resistance with a way to jump back to the past their (and mankind's) only hope for aid. Surviving Episodes Remaining: 36
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.