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Peter Bart: Movie Sequels And Prequels, Like Trump Trials, Challenge Patience With Same Old Stories

With at least 10 sequels awaiting our imminent attention, here’s the challenge for filmgoers: Viewing each sequel means mastering a new code. Dune: Part Two becomes more accessible once you’ve learned why the Chakobsa-speaking characters are frustrated by their stalled kirzibs. For that matter, the fifth Ghostbusters makes more sense if you understand why an old Ectomobile is crucial to harpooning geriatric ghosts.

Each sequel, prequel or miquel is built around its own backstory and idiosyncratic characters. Even the succession of Donald Trump trials and litigations, ongoing or “paused,” are unfolding like sequels, with each scheduled “performance” boasting a familiar plot turn (more on that below).

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The present slate of entertainment thus essentially belongs to the past. Audiences won’t be in culture shock this year because of a new Barbenheimer; they’ll more likely be revisiting older, semi-forgotten brands.

Full disclosure: I’m comfy sitting through the new Jokers, Avatars or even Americans Pies, but perhaps Beetlejuice Beetlejuice could have sufficed with a shorter title.

Filmgoers understand the realities of the marketplace: The Covid virus followed by the strikes delivered a severe shortfall of product, so studios decided to bet on old brands rather than new “Barbies.” If a movie worked the first time, why wouldn’t it do better the second?

The Godfather Part II famously had greater impact than the first iteration. The Bonds have weathered the decades and apparently even outlasted Indiana Jones. It’s fun to wince at an old Naked Gun on late at night or even cringe at a Scream.

But the problems are obvious. The energies of emerging talent increasingly are focused on recycling old ideas because the exercise of creating innovative IP can prove numbing. Some projects that now seem obvious had to gestate for decades before finding support – witness Poor Things or Saltburn.

The great producer Saul Zaentz labored for years trying to find backing for eventual Oscar winners Amadeus (1984) or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) but never found funding for his dream project, Man’s Fate by Andre Malraux.

So will Donald Trump’s litigious adventures finally reach a third act? Not long ago I did a television interview with Stormy Daniels, star of the trials’ “hush money” episode. The legal gurus believe that this trial, scheduled to start April 15, will prove the most dramatically impactful of the various prosecutorial sequels.

I’d invited Daniels specifically to talk about her budding career as a film director, since she’d shot five in a row. I’d heard she’d become a fan of Martin Scorsese and student of his technique.

“Structure and discipline are the keys to directing,” she said in our interview. “Even within my genre, the characters must stay true to themselves.“

Daniels hopes that the truth will be respected in the coming weeks, but she’s firm about not welcoming a potential sequel. “Sequels get tired,” she said. “You’ve seen it all before.”

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