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Sequels, Remakes, and Transformers in 3-D – A December Mailbag

The weather outside is frightful, but your movie questions are delightful, and, since I’ve no place to go, into the electronic mailbag I go.

First question:

Is it my imagination, or was this year even more re-tread and sequel happy than usual?

It isn’t entirely your imagination; no. The top ten films of 2010 are unlikely to change before the end of the year — especially in this doldrums holiday-film season — and seven of the ten are sequels or remakes: Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man 2, Eclipse, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Shrek Forever After, and The Karate Kid. Of the three remaining, two are animated films (Despicable Me and How to Train Your Dragon), and one is Inception — which makes it the one non-sequel, adult-oriented film in the entire top ten. It also happens to be science fiction, which is nice for this column. (The science-fiction and fantasy content of the top films of the year will be the subject of a column very soon.)
How does seven sequels or remakes in the top ten compare with
previous years? In 2009, six of the top ten films were sequels or
remakes; in 2008, four were; in 2007, it was seven; in 2006, it was five. Seven sequels or remakes is pretty solid for the year. (If Tron: Legacy makes more than $176 million in its theatrical run and displaces The Karate Kid on the top-ten list, we just replace one remake with a sequel.)

I think may be slightly more informative is to look at how many films
in 2010 have made $100 million so far — the amount generally
considered to be a blockbuster movie gross (although $100 million
isn’t what it used to be) — and see how many of them are remakes or
sequels. In 2010 so far, 22 films made more than $100 million, and, of
those, only 10 are remakes or sequels (the other three being Clash of the Titans, Jackass 3D, and Robin Hood). Tron: Legacy will likely add another sequel to that pile, but that’ll still be only half of the list.

this tells us is that, yes, at the highest reaches of the box office
sequels and remakes are what pass as safe bets in Hollywood, which
is why they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. But there’s still
room near the top of the food chain for newer material, which in time
will of course very likely spawn its own set of sequels. Because any
movie that’s a hit once is likely to be a hit twice and then a third
time, in 3-D. Which brings us to the next question:

Earlier in the year you praised Michael Bay for his negative position on 3D films, but now that the first trailer for the next Transformers film is out, we know it’s going to be in 3D. Are you hurt? Betrayed?

Well, you know, Michael Bay doesn’t answer to me; he answers to his overlords
at Paramount Pictures. (Yes, even Michael Bay has overlords.) His
overlords apparently crave the extra box-office jolt that 3-D tickets can bring. If Michael Bay annoys me, he’s out the price of a
movie ticket. If he annoys his bosses, he’s out the several million dollars
he makes as a director of very loud films. Trust me: he can sleep at
night knowing he’s annoyed me.

That said, recent interviews he’s
given on the subject of 3-D films suggests that he’s approaching the 3-D process in a non-stupid fashion. He’s using 3-D cameras when he can (while admitting the physical limitations of the cameras, which means some of the film will converted from 2-D), and he’s also changing his shooting style to incorporate more wide shots and to presumably keep his audience’s eyeballs from exploding from all the focus shifting that 3-D would require from his trademark fast cuts.

Whether this amounts to anything remains to be seen — after all, what does “non-stupid” mean when applied to a Michael Bay film? But snark aside,
I think Bay is extremely proficient on the technical side of filmmaking
and is also invested in making his films visually effective. I do
actually have some faith that if Bay is going to make the leap to 3-D
he’ll do it on his terms and that his terms might not be all that bad.
Doesn’t make me any more excited to see the next Transformers film,
mind you. But at least now I hope my corneas won’t pop right off my

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