What was the picture? An image of Venom in all his disgusting glory --- you know, the comically repulsive creature from the eponymous film franchise --- accompanied by a Tweet saying filming on Venom 3 has just completed. Oh, frabjous day. Callooh. Callay. I’m over the moon. (Given the difficulties so many people seem to have over interpreting the written word when there’s no audible reading or visual body language to accompany it, let me assure you I couldn’t give a flying cow turd over the Venom films. Saw the first one. It was… mildly entertaining, I suppose. The fact a second installment exists was news to me, in an indifferent kind of way. And a third… yawn. Nope. Won’t be watching. Sorry, Venom lovers. You’re entitled to your opinions. So am I.)
Anyway, the crux of the matter, and today’s related subject, is the concept of sequels. And I started, in my best teacher-ish fashion, by thinking how we define them. Which is a bit of a problem, actually: on reflection, I guess we could say it’s more story when the original is done. Not finished, mind, just done, because, when you get right down to it, anyone’s given story is only finished when we shuffle off that mortal coil, as Will says. At least on this mortal plane. Afterwards… well, that’s another issue entirely, and I don’t feel like getting too metaphysical today. And Orson Welles famously said that if you want a happy ending, that depends on where you stop your story.
But if a story engages us, if we like it, as in really like it… why, then we don’t want it to end. I know I don’t, and I’m pretty sure there’s a person or six out there who feels the same. (Stephen King says he occasionally gets fan letters asking whatever happened to such and such a character from this or that story, as though he gets mail from them once in a while.) We want more adventures from our favourite characters. We want more scrapes, more death-defying escapes, more conflict, more loving, more redemption, more…. well, more, bless our greedy little hearts.
I know there are purists out there who whine about sequels, as in, “why do a sequel? Make something original, FFS.” And I’ve got news for those purists: there ain’t nothing original out there, sweethearts. Not after five thousand or so years of recorded history. Don’t believe me? Google ‘seven story premises’ or words to that effect and you’ll see what I mean. On second thought, it you’re prone to disillusionment about the state of human creativity, you may not want to do that. But it’s certainly food for thought.
Which is not to be construed as a blanket endorsement of sequels, mind you. Some are horrendously unimaginative and waaaaay worse than the original. Some are downright silly. You look at them and instinctively check the book cover or the film synopsis and wonder if you’ve stumbled into some awful alternate reality, where writers or filmmakers deliberately go about destroying a story. Sometimes the magic truly was ‘lightning in a bottle’ and unrepeatable for some strange reason. Sometimes I’m quite convinced somebody whispered into the writer’s ear that they could make a potful of money if they would just crank up the computer and crank out some more about a particular character, and the result is little short of a crime against literature. Quoth the raven, nevermore, indeed.
Some sequels --- perhaps not too many --- are, dare I say it, actually better than the original. Most of us tend to agree Aliens was much better than Alien, for example. (Though we won’t even begin to discuss how the franchise drove off a cliff and crashed and burned after that.) Or The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) being superior to The Hobbit… though I’m not really sure that’s a fair comparison; LOTR both is and isn’t a sequel. For starters, the two books were written for totally different audiences: The Hobbit was a children’s work, which LOTR most definitely is not (Peter Jackson’s sometimes very peculiar filmic attempts notwithstanding), and LOTR’s background mythology predates the Hobbit, anyway. Sure, it’s a continuation of the Hobbit’s story --- albeit largely with new characters --- so it certainly checks that box.
Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters a helluva lot, anyway. I’ve long since come to the conclusion it isn’t what the story’s plotline is, it’s how it’s told. If the tale seems fresh and original (even if it’s not), if it’s well-written and engaging, if it makes us pause around the fire at night and want to hear more as we stare up at the stars and wonder… if it’s thought-provoking and makes us laugh and cry and reflect on the human condition we all (hypothetically) share… then I don’t think it matters we’ve heard this basic premise before.