The Truly Fantastic Four Rant 'n' Rave (Surviving The Summer of Sequels)

Am I the only one who's bloody well sick and tired of all these goddamn sequels?! Is it really so hard to come up with a few original ideas rather than just making parts 2, 3 and 4 of every successful movie that has come out over the past few years? And is it really too much to ask for a few films based on something other than comic books and amusement park rides... and now toys - toys! Seriously, is it?

As my birthday was fast approaching in mid- to late-May I figured it'd be nice to go see a movie to celebrate. However, all I found week after week at the theaters up here on the Sunshine Coast were the goddamn 3's: Spider Man 3, Shrek 3, Pirates 3 and Oceans 3. "Give us something new and original", I screamed to myself, but no one, it seems, was listening.

And just when things looked like they couldn't get any worse, along came a fifth sequel in as many weeks. But not just any ol' sequel. No, we're talkin' about a Fantastically Pathetic piece-o-crap sequel here: "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer". At least with 3 of the other 4 films the original was either good, great or at least somewhat interesting, but, I've gotta tell ya, the first "Fantastic Four" film has simply got to be one of the worst films I've ever seen. Period. "Filmmaking", if it can even be referred to as such, just doesn't get much worse than that.

So, what do they do after the catastrophe of part one? They go and make another one, of course... and the %&$#ing thing makes more in its opening weekend than many great films make in their entire run. I mean, is it really so much to ask for a film to feature some actual acting, some semi-intelligent dialogue and maybe even a somewhat interesting plot?

Obviously, as long as these sequels keep raking in $120 to $150 million on their opening weekends, like "Spiderman 3" and "Shrek The Third" did, then we'll inevitably be looking at parts 4 and 5 as well. However, earlier this year, like some sort of preposterous and very unfunny joke, they finally went too far when they came out with Rocky 6. And now they've given us Die Hard 4. I mean, come on, that's really getting a bit out of hand, don't you think?

Of course, it's easy to understand the success of "Shrek", as the first film was actually quite wonderful, hilarious and, literally, fun for the whole family. But the second one was much more of a kids film after the studio clearly decided to leave out all the great double entendres and innuendo that had made the first installment so much fun for adults. The third I'm sure - and I've heard - is yet another step down, though it's probably still great entertainment for kids.

So, yeah, I understand the success of "Shrek", but who the %$#& needs a film about toys?! Do people really need to see "Transformers"? What next, "The Adventures of Barbie and Ken In Paris Hilton's Playhouse" and "Tonka Trucks Vs. Osama bin Laden in 'Battle For The Free World'"?

But don't get me started on how ridiculous Hollywood has become. Gone are the days when studios took risks in the name of creating great works of art. Oh, I know, they most certainly still take risks, in that they'll put up $200 million for the next mindless action flick, but they often seem terrified about risking even a relatively small $10 to $20 million budget on something original.

The real problem of course is not Hollywood so much as the general population who, for the most part, flock to all the most predictable shit while trickling to, if not outright avoiding, the most brilliant, original and inspired stuff. The people, it seems, like predictable and nothing says predictable more than a sequel, right?

But somehow great films still get made, albeit for the most part far from Hollywood. Or at least on Hollywood's fringes.

Case in point, the four fantastic films I watched on DVD recently to soothe my Nothing Going On But The Sequels Blues. There was the Korean film "OldBoy", the Mexican film "Pan's Labyrinth", and then the two American films "Little Children" and "The Fountain".

Of the four, "Little Children" is the most conventional, but it's far from being your typical Hollywood film. Written and directed by Todd Field, who also made the great "In The Bedroom" a few years back, the film centers around the amazing Kate Winslet who, as always, is magical. I'm not going to give away the plot to this or any of the other films because, if you're like me, you actually like being surprised by the twists and turns in a movie, something that has basically become impossible with modern-day trailers... but that's a whole other rant.

Written and directed by the brilliant Darren Aronofsky, who has also made two other fascinating films in "Pi" and "Requiem For A Dream", "The Fountain" is a visually stunning film. Featuring three parallel stories, it's a bit of a complicated tale and figuring out just what's going on is definitely a challenge at times, but that's all part of the fun. Like so many other great films, from "Citizen Kane" to "Pulp Fiction", you're not exactly sure what's happening until you start to piece it all together afterwards. But, hey, if that doesn't appeal to you and you just want mindless entertainment, watch TV.

Now if you don't like Tarantino and you're one of those who thought "The Departed" was "too violent" I recommend you stay far far away from "OldBoy", but if you're ready for an absolutely enthralling tale of vengeance then this is a must-see film. And that's all I'm going to tell you about this fantastic movie by Chan-wook Park.

Best of all, if you want to be totally enthralled while marveling at grand, original filmmaking, see Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece "Pan's Labyrinth". You can take all your Part 3 sequels, combine 'em and you still won't have 10% of the inspiration that went into this magnificent film. See it!!

By the way, I eventually did get to see a non-sequel to celebrate my birthday when "Knocked Up", a comedy by Judd Apatow, who also made "The 40 year Old Virgin", came here in mid-June. We're not talkin' Monty Python, but it sure was good and, compared to your typical Hollywood comedy, pretty original too.

Finally, I also recently saw two old favs on DVD: David Fincher's "Fight Club" (third time) and Jim Jarmusch's "Ghostdog: The Way of The Samurai" (2nd time). Now that, I've gotta tell you, is some brilliant and original filmmaking!

So, what's it going to be people, The Truly Fantastic Four ("Pan's Labyrinth", "Little Children", "The Fountain" and "OldBoy") or crap like "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer"? Truly original artistic genius or the septic tank of our civilization? Like being faced with a choice between Bob Dylan and Britney Spears, Marlon Brando and John Wayne, soccer and cricket, Gore and Bush, or Ernie and Bert, it really should be a no brainer.

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Friday, July 6th, 2007