Shakespeare must be rolling in his grave – with excitement that is! The playwright who gave us almost as many Henry plays as J.K. Rowling has Harry novels, might be delighted to learn the movie about his life is going to be sequelized. That's right: Shakespeare in Love 2.
In mid-December, The Weinstein Company and Miramax, the heart of independent filmmaking in the nineties, announced a deal where the Oscar-winning film, along with Bad Santa and Rounders, will be given follow-ups. Also on the list are potential additions to From Dusk Till Dawn, Swingers, Shall We Dance, Bridget Jones and The Amityville Horror.
Shakespeare in Love, the 1998 independent film that rocked the Oscars by beating out the big budget Saving Private Ryan, is the extreme example of how sequels, comic-book adaptations, remakes and reboots are this century's Hollywood norm. DreamWorks, for example, is looking at four more sequels to Kung-Fu Panda, another Madagascar, and at least two – and possibly seven – more How to Train Your Dragons. In the past five years, only 20 per cent of the movies that earned in excess of $200-million were original.
Possibly the only thing less creative than a sequel is complaining about Hollywood's lack of originality. Is nothing sacred? A good answer to that question might be The New Testament, a.k.a. the sequel to the Old Testament. Not to forget The Odyssey, sequel to The Iliad; Sophocles's trilogy of Theban plays; the second part of Don Quixote; John Milton's Paradise Regained; Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; and Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. It seems sequels have always been with us and are intrinsically connected to the art of storytelling.
In the golden age of Hollywood, producers recycled ideas with a frenzy that makes contemporary studios look amateurish. Warner Bros. producer Brian Foy claimed to have used the plot of Tiger Shark in 10 other films by changing the titles, the locale and the names of the characters. The same company offered six different versions of the George S. Kaufman play The Butter and Egg Man. Then, there were the popular B-series like the East Side Kids (22 movies), Charlie Chan (47) and Hopalong Cassidy (66). Suddenly, Scream 4 doesn't sound quite so scary.
When movies sell each new version of their brand like software updates, a more difficult question is what relevance does the notion of originality have? Currently, the rather bogus seal of authenticity comes from the "based on a true story" designation, as in such Oscar prospects as The Social Network, Love and Other Drugs, 127 Hours, The Fighter and The King's Speech.
What about independent film directors? It's still debatable. In an essay called Sequelizing Hollywood (part of Second Takes, a recent academic book on sequels), critic Claire Perkins suggests that the Sundance generation of directors, such as Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino and Sofia Coppola (whose new film, Somewhere, comes out today), are a "sequel" to the Hollywood innovators of the Seventies. Call them New Hollywood II: The Return of the Mavericks.
A useful New Year's resolution is to make peace with sequels. It's not as if there's much choice. A partial list of upcoming digit-and-colon movies includes: Kung-Fu Panda 2, Hangover 2 , X-Men: First Class, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Spy Kids 4, Scary Movie 5, Final Destination 5, Cars 2, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Scream 4, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Happy Feet 2, Rise of the Apes, Fast Five (from the Fast and the Furious series), Ice Age: Continental Drift, Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, and bringing you next year's holiday cheer, A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas.
And for good measure, a new incarnation of Hopalong Cassidy will be trotting down the trail soon.