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VULTURE DROPPINGS OF THE WEEK: Long Delayed Sequels

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The horror movie news and entertainment site, Bloody Disgusting, says thatIvan Reitman is “100% confirmed” to be on board for another Ghostbusters sequel. It will be the first new movie in the series since Ghostbusters 2 in 1989. Almost all of the original cast is reportedly interested in reprising their roles, including Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver. It can be risky business trying to recapture the magic of a successful pop cultural event and Ghostbusters 3 will surely having its work cut out for it. Reuniting the major stars, cast and crew of a successful film means big money, big egos and, usually, the resulting film is an ego-driven, vanity project that seems like too little, too late. Especially when the stars have outgrown their iconic roles.

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1. Basic Instinct 2 (2006)

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In 1992, Carolco Pictures payed a then-unheard of sum of $3 million to Joe Eszterhas for his screenplay Basic Instinct, an erotic thriller about a femme fatale who may or may not have a habit of killing people with an icepick. The movie went on to gross over $400 million worldwide and turned Sharon Stone, a virtual unknown, into a bona fide movie star. Naturally, after such enormous success, there was talk of a sequel. Plans for an immediate follow-up were shelved, however, complicated by Stone’s high demand and busy schedule. Carolco’s financial troubles didn’t speed the process along either. Even with an impressive roster of hits such as Total Recall and Cliffhanger, the studio barely managed to avoid bankrupty in 1992.

Restructuring the company bought more time, until 1995, when the decision to greenlight the big budget pirate epic Cutthroat Island, starring Geena Davis and directed by her then-husband Renny Harlin, proved to be its undoing. Island was a $100 million disaster and effectively secured Carolco’s untimely demise.

In a 1997 auction of the studio’s basic_instinct_two_ver3film library, the rights to Basic Instinct were snatched by MGM, which was eager to start production on the sequel. By late 2000, the project, with the working title Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction, was finally a go. All the pieces were in place: Leora Barish and Henry Bean authored a screenplay and Sharon Stone was on board to reprise her star-making role to the tune of $15 million.

In his book, The Devils Guide To Hollywood, Ezsterhassays:

When MGM asked me to write the sequel to Basic Instinct, it was easy for me to pass. I’d get millions from a sequel whether I wrote it or not, according to my contract. I had other incentives to pass too. The studio executive in charge, Lyndsay Doran told me she thought the original was ‘sexist’ and ‘misogynistic’ and  said, ‘We have to figure out a way not to make the sequel like that.’ I didn’t tell her that the original had made nearly $500M worldwide at the box office. I didn’t tell her that thanks to her attitude, I thought my characters Nick Curran and Catherine Tremell were in the hands of a politically correct ideologue. But I knew that any sequel they might make would be a disaster.

Like Ezsterhas, the original director Paul Verhoeven also declined to be involved, so David Cronenberg, the sci-fi and horror filmmaker behind movies like Altered States and Videodrome, was hired to direct.

By early 2001, however, Cronenberg was out, and the project was stalled due to disagreements over the casting of the young male actor who would play opposite Stone. Later that year, the disagreements came to a head when Stone sued producers Andy Vajna and Mario Kassar, alleging that she had a pay-or-play deal that ensured that she would get paid her full salary whether the movie ultimately got made or not.

The lawsuit was finally settled in 2004 and plans resumed to bring the sequel to the big screen. In a 2005 interview with Army Archerd from the film’s set in London, Stone said:

It’s a very film noir film, like a European film. I’m older. slicker, smarter, witty — and I’m still single.

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In the end, all the hype and hooplah didn’t amount to a hill of beans. The resulting film, Basic Instinct 2, would have the distinction of being the most notorious flop of 2006, with a domestic gross of under $6 million–small potatoes when compared to its estimated budget of $70 million. In her New York Times review, Manohla Dargis wrote:
The long-gestating follow-up to Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 blip on the zeitgeist screen is a disaster of the highest or perhaps lowest order.
In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert added:
Here is a movie so outrageous and preposterous it is either (a) suicidal or (b) throbbing with a horrible fascination. I lean toward (b).
By the end of 2006, Basic Instinct 2 garnered only four awards: the Razzies for Worst Picture, Actress, Sequel and Screenplay.

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2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

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According to IMDb, there was a plan from the outset to film five Indiana Jones movies. The third installment of the series, The Last Crusade, did big business in1989 and, in the years that followed, a fourth outing was constantly categorized as being “in development”. The main reason the project was stalled for so long is that the task of creating a screenplay that met the approval of all the major players–George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford–proved to be daunting.

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Jeb Stuart wrote the first draft in the early 90s in an effort that would eventually involve five other screenwriters. Stuart, who penned 
Die Hard and The Fugitive, wrote a draft titled Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men. It was an attempt to move away from the World War II theme of the earlier movies and incorporate the late 1950s preoccupation with outer space. According to Entertainment Weekly, the draft was ultimately rejected by Ford, who complained:

No way am I being in a Steven Spielberg movie like that.

So it was back to the drawing board. Jeffery Boam, who had authored The Last Crusade, was the next one to attempt a draft…but he was also met with rejection. In 2000, director M. Night Shyamalan, whose Sixth Sense had been showered with awards and box office gold the previous year, expressed interest in taking a crack at it but, of course, nothing became of that either. Then in 2003, Frank Darabont, the writer-director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, spent a year writing a draft and an extensive revision that Spielberg approved of, but was ultimately vetoed by Lucas. It was a bitter experience for Darabont, who, in an interview with MTV, said,

Indy is definitely in that category, topping the list. It showed me how badly things can go. I spent a year of very determined effort on something I was very excited about, working very closely with Steven Spielberg and coming up with a result that I and he felt was terrific. He wanted to direct it as his next movie, and then suddenly the whole thing goes down in flames because George Lucas doesn’t like the script.

In 2007, during the promotional tour for his movie The Mist, Darabont openly discussed his Indy experience with the press:

indiana_jones_and_the_kingdom_of_the_crystal_skull_ver2By 2006, the project still hadn’t come to fruition, so Ford, then 64, gave Spielberg an ultimatum: if the movie wasn’t in production by 2008, he should drop the idea altogether. George Lucas, who had his own experience making a long delayed sequel of his own, told Empire magazine:

We’re basically going to do The Phantom Menace…People’s expectations are way higher than you can deliver. You could just get killed for the whole thing…We would do it for fun and just take the hit with the critics and the fans…But nobody wants to get into it unless they are really happy with it.

Finally, in 2007, a screenplay by Spiderman screenwriter David Koepp was approved. Koepp talked about the difficulty of meeting all the key players’ approval with Entertainment Weekly:

Three very powerful, opinionated individuals. That’s just hard to get to line up.

Once the project was in full swing, recreating the look and feel of  a movie whose last out had been 18 years earlier, proved to be a more difficult task than Spielberg had first expected. The cinematographer, Douglas Slocomb, who had worked on each of the previous films, had since retired, so Spielberg had the new cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, watch the three films multiple times to study Slocomb’s work.

Spielberg told Vanity Fair,

His lighting style defined a genre of serialized action adventure. I needed to show them to Janusz, because I didn’t want Janusz to modernize and bring us into the 21st century.

When Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull–a corny title that fits the movie well– was released in the summer of 2008 it was met with polite disappointment. In Rolling Stone, Peter Travers wrote:

Crystal Skull is hit-and-miss like the clunky 1984 sequel, Temple of Doom. And instead of the elegiac tone that lifted 1989′s presumptive valedictory, The Last Crusade, director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas have gotten sillier.

Unlike Travers, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone‘s disappointment was a little less polite, as this clip demonstrates:

While I wasn’t as vehement as the South Park creators, I still felt quite cheated when I finally saw it. The other Indy installments are exciting thrill rides with the appropriate mix of  serial adventure and pop art–and all shot in the classical filmmaking style. Indy 4 isn’t even on the same wavelength as those. It’s a CGI-infused mess of a movie. And the addition of the ever-annoying Shia Lebeouf as Indy’s son further cemented its awfulness. I really tried to give it a chance but, between the refrigerator-as-a-nuclear-bomb-shelter gag, the wacky CGI monkeys and the aliens (aliens in an Indy movie!! What!?), it was simply DOA.

Although Indy 4 disappointed critics and fans alike, it looks like the filmmakers will have a chance to end the series on a brighter note, as Harrison Ford recently announced that plans are in place to film Indiana Jones 5. He said,

The story for the new Indiana Jones is in the process of taking form. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and I are agreed on what the fifth adventure will concern, and George is actively at work. If the script is good, I’ll be very happy to put the costume on again.”

Hopefully it won’t involve aliens and monkeys this time!

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3. Alien: Resurrection (1997)

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The landmark horror film, Alien, which, according to IMDb, a script reader described to one of the producer’s as being, “Like Jaws, but in space,” and which boasted an infamous chest-bursting scene featuring the actor John Hurt, was a huge box office hit in 1979. It made a star out of an unknown actress named Sigourney Weaver and its 1986  follow-up, which was directed by James Cameron, was also wildly successful. In 1993, Weaver once again reprised her ralien_three_ver3ole as iconic space hunter Ripley.

Alien³ was directed by a 27-year-old David Fincher (Seven, Zodiac), whose only previous experience had been directing music videos. He was so unhappy with the finished product that he ultimately disowned the film, citing studio interference. Not surprisingly, Alien³ was poorly received when it was finally released and did much less than expected at the box office. Eventually, though, it did manage to gross over $100 million worldwide. Weaver, talked about the evolution of the series and her thoughts about the third film in an interview with the LA Times:

You have to remember in the dark ages when I started this series there was no such thing as sequels. So it was actually Jim Cameron who wrote this script, basically came to the producers and said, ‘I want to write a script about [a sequel to] Alien.’  To their surprise he created this whole big thing. And then after that, I think it made so much money that eventually we knew there might be a third. But then I died to set the series free, because I felt like if the new director has this extra burden of this continuing character who’s always waking up in this spaceship saying, ‘Listen, you don’t understand. . . .’ First of all, it becomes so boring for me. And also I had actually heard that they were going to do Alien vs. Predator, and I didn’t want any part of that.

After the lackluster performance of Alien³, it makes sense that 20th Century Fox would have been interested in taking another stab at the material so that they could re-boot the series and keep the franchise profitable. Ripley’s unequivocal death in the third installment, however, would prove to be a large, if not insurmountable, obstacle to overcome for the fourth film.

alien_resurrection_ver3Five years later, long after the general public had lost interest, the solution that screenwriter Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) came up with to continue the franchise  involved Ripley being recreated as a human/hybrid clone of her former self in order to withdraw the alien inside of her.

To freshen things up, Winona Ryder was cast and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the French director of Delicatessen, was hired. He brought in his own team, which included cinematographer Darius Khondji and special effects supervisor Pitof (who would go on to reach “greater” heights, directing 2007′s Catwoman). Khondji explained their fresh take on the material to Variety, saying:

There’s more of living with the aliens, communicating with them also. You get to feel their intelligence and their aptitude to mutate. This one is at times more of a ‘humor noir’ film. … Everything’s very different from the other films.

Unfortunately, all of the efforts to re-invigorate the series were for nothing as Alien: Resurrection turned out to be the worst one of the series. The effects, the tone, the performances….everything is a little bit off. The movie didn’t get much love when it was released in November 1997. In the LA Times, Kenneth Turan wrote:

The fourth film in a series that started with Ridley Scott‘s widely appreciated 1979 original, the current Alien has devolved into something that’s strictly for hard-core horror junkies who can’t get enough of slime, gore and repulsion. Working with some of the same actors and technicians from that film, Jeunet has also reteamed with cinematographer Darius Khondji. His visual style, grandly described in the press kit as ‘signature chiaroscuro lighting and muted colors,’ in practice means that Alien Resurrection looks as if it were shot under the sickly fluorescent lighting of a decrepit hospital emergency ward…Ryder, whose naturalness is her strength, mostly looks lost in the film’s overstylized environment.

In the New York Times, Janet Maslin added:

The filmmaker’s ghoulishly fecund imagination makes this tale murky that even the screen’s toughest woman warrior remains largely stuck in the mud.

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Alien: Resurrection made less than $50 million in its theatrical release, an extremely low figure considering that its budget was upwards of $75 million. Despite the fact the fourth installment was yet another disappointment, the Alien films continue to capture the imagination of audiences and filmmakers. According to Variety, 20th Century Fox is working on a prequel with original director Ridley Scott.  And Sigourney Weaver, for her part, certainly doesn’t have any complaints. At the time of Alien: Resurrection’s theatrical release, she proudly told the New York Times:

It’s been a great gig.

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