Hotels and Dinosaurs: What we can learn about Legacy Sequels from ‘Doctor Sleep’ and ‘Jurassic World’

NOTE: My apologies for the lack of recent updates. Living near wildfire areas means that, eventually, you’ll have to face said fires.

NOTE 2: This post spoils the plots of ‘Doctor Sleep,’ ‘Jurassic World,’ and ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

I went to see ‘Doctor Sleep’ last week, despite being skeptical of a sequel to the 1980 classic, ‘The Shining,’ especially one that comes out almost 40 (!) years after the original. But to my surprise, it was a great sequel that doesn’t rely on the power of nostalgia to tell a story that not only feels like a logical continuation of the original film, but also enriches explores and enriches the mythology of Stephen King’s world.

Since seeing ‘Sleep,’ I’ve been musing about why it works so well as a legacy sequel (loosely defined as a sequel to a work that comes out a decade or so after the original) when so many other similar film sequels haven’t done as well at the box office, and realized that the 2015 juggernaut, ‘Jurassic World,’ shared quite a bit of similarities in its storytelling. And while there’s no guaranteed formula for creating a successful legacy sequel, I think ‘World’ and ‘Sleep’ does four things right that writers should keep in mind when doing their own legacy sequels:

1. They take place quite a while after the original.

While the stories of most sequels typically take place a year or two after the original (so the actors don’t age too much), ‘Sleep’ and ‘World’ occur decades after their predecessors and largely feature new cast members with only one or two familiar faces returning. While this may seem like a disadvantage, it can be a blessing in disguise: When audiences return to a fictional world where twenty or thirty years have passed, they’re naturally about how both the world and the people in it have changed. Best of all, having the story set so long after the original subtly tells the audience that the writer/s have taken their time to create an interesting story instead of hastily throwing something together so that a studio and publisher can get into theaters or stores to make a quick buck while the anvil is hot.

2. They don’t copy the first story.

When given a choice, the entertainment industry likes to play things safe: If a movie or book is a critical and financial success, why change the formula for the sequel? Have the same characters, have roughly the same plot, and make the spectacle bigger and better. Imagine if ‘Sleep’ was about a grown-up Danny being forced to take a caretaker job at the Overlook to support his family, or if ‘World’ was about Ingen building Jurassic Park 2.0, only to have an insider shut down the power to try and get rich in the process. Aside from a few differences, it’d be the same story we’ve seen before, and leave audiences disappointed.

Thankfully, ‘Sleep’ and ‘World’ they build off what came before; where ‘The Shining’ is about an alcoholic dad being driven insane by ghosts and subsequently trying to murder his family. ‘Doctor Sleep’ is about his grown-up son struggling with his own alcoholism while battling psychic vampires who gorge themselves on the screams of dying children (Wut). And while ‘World’ has the same basic premise of ‘Jurassic Park’ (humanity creates a theme park full of living dinosaurs and something goes catastrophically wrong), this version of the park is a resounding success. So much so, in fact, that the park’s operators create genetically-modified murdersauruses to recapture people’s interest, which leads to the inevitable breakout of said murdersaurus.

In both instances, ‘Sleep’ and ‘World’ borrow elements of their predecessor’s story, but don’t copy it, instead trying to create something that feels like a logical extension.

3. They don’t invalidate what came before.

‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ billed itself as the true continuation of the ‘Terminator’ story by ignoring all the other three sequels that had come after ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day.’ Considering how ‘Judgment Day’ is one of the best sci-fi sequels of all time, I was excited to see what would happen… and then John Connor is killed in the first five minutes, followed by a race to save the person destined to save humanity from a new evil AI called Legion. ‘Dark Fate’ retroactively sours the first two Terminator films because we now know that everything that Sarah, Kyle, John, and Uncle Bob fought for amounts to nothing. Humanity is still almost wiped out by an evil AI, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it.

‘Sleep’ and ‘World’ smartly avert this problem by not invalidating everything their predecessors went through. ‘Sleep’ shows that Danny and Wendy’s struggle to survive being chased by Jack Nicholson at a spooky hotel brought them another decade together, and that Danny eventually overcomes the trauma he endured. ‘World’ shows that the operators of Jurassic World learned from the mistakes of the first film, and made John Hammond’s dream of a family-friendly park filled with dinosaurs come true. Granted, it inevitably falls apart, but for ten years the park brought joy and happiness to millions. Both stories show that the suffering and struggles of the previous stories ultimately amounted to something good, where ‘Dark Fate’ made it so that the suffering and struggles of the previous stories ultimately amounted to nothing.

4. They save nostalgia for the third act

There are few forces as powerful as nostalgia, and indulging fans by giving them the return of a favorite character, the big battle that’s been teased for decades, or hearing a familiar catchphrase from an older actor reprising a role he had twenty years ago can bring about a squeal of joy for any audience. ‘Sleep’ and ‘World’ both know the importance of nostalgia, and follow the classic advice of saving the best for last. Or, in storytelling jargon, saving their biggest, most crowd-pleasing moments for the third act.

Most of ‘Sleep’ features Danny and his new companion, Abra, using their shining abilities to battle psychic vampires in New Hampshire. But in the third act, Danny and Abra drive to the now-rotting Overlook hotel for the final showdown with the last surviving vampire, where Danny goes back through all the old rooms we saw back in 1980, eventually confronts the spectral form of his father, and then does battle with Rose by unleashing all the Overlook’s ghosts before destroying the hotel for good.

‘World’ takes a different approach: Instead of indulging in nostalgia in the third act, it sprinkles little bits throughout the film, including a visit to the original visitor’s center in the beginning of the second act. But the biggest nostalgia moment comes in the climax: Having exhausted all other options to stop the Murdersaurus Rex Indominus Rex, park operator Claire releases the park’s T-rex to fight the Indominous. And this isn’t just any T-rex: this is Rexy, the same T-rex from the original 1993 movie, the one that terrorized Alan Grant and the kids outside its paddock, the one who chased Malcom, Sattler, and Muldon in the jungle, and who saved the day in the visitors center. Now, over twenty years later, Rexy returns to save the day once again in the most spectacular climax of the series to date (and one of my personal favorite final fights in years).

What’s so great about both these climaxes is that returning to the Overlook and releasing the T-rex to fight the villain (sadly, not in the same story) isn’t just done for fanservice, but as important parts of the story to resolve the conflict: The Overlook is the only place where Danny and Abra can possibly defeat Rose the Hat, and Rexy is the only chance Claire has to try and stop the Indominus Rex after every other containment option has failed.

As stated earlier, there’s no guaranteed formula for creating a popular legacy sequel. Said sequels can tell new stories without relying on the original and having just the right amount of nostalgia, but still fail. But if writers follow the four points outlined above, we have a much stronger chance of creating a worthy follow-up to delight audiences both new and old.

Favorite Moments: A Monk and an Imam

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Movie

‘Van Helsing’

The Scene

Why it’s great

2004’s, ‘Van Helsing’, a fun, actionized adaptation of Universal’s Dracula, Frankenstein, and Werewolf mythos, has it’s protagonist, Gabriel Van Helsing, being an agent of the Knights of the Holy Order, a fictional organization devoted to fighting supernatural evils. Early on in the film, he goes to the Vatican to get his next assignment, which sets him down a path that will lead to a (rather awesome) showdown against Count Dracula.

As you might expect from a secret religious organization that’s set in the Vatican, the Order features a strong Christian bent, with priests, monks, and the like rushing about. But in a nice touch, it’s shown that the organization is composed of people from different faiths, including a Buddhist monk and an Islamic Imam (specifically, at 1:37 in the video). The movie doesn’t draw extra attention to these characters – they’re just in the background, doing their thing – but to see people of different faiths working together for a common cause is something we don’t see much in stories, and I wish it was far more common – in today’s divided world, such signs of solidarity and cooperation are badly needed, even if only in fiction.

Perfect Moments: Ellen Ripley’s Message

Once in a while, you come across a moment in a story that is so perfect that it stays in with you for years, or even a lifetime. These are moments that, in my opinion, are flawless; perfect gems of storytelling that cannot be improved in any way, and are a joy to treasure and revisit again and again.

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The Game

‘Alien Isolation’

The Moment

Why it’s perfect

Earlier this week, I suggested a new way of watching the Alien series in order to give it – and Ellen – a more hopeful ending instead of the bittersweet one in both ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection’. Part of that new trilogy was the videogame, ‘Alien: Isolation’ because of the strength of its core concept: Ellen’s daughter, Amanda, has spent 15 years searching for any clue about her mother’s fate after she disappeared aboard the Nostromo, and after fighting her way through a decaying space station while hiding from the cosmos’ most terrifying alien, she finally finds a message for her that was recorded by her mother.

When I first played through ‘Isolation’, I almost teared up at this moment. Not only does Sigourney Weaver perfectly play Ellen once more, but bringing an emotional, tragic side of her we almost never see, but the meaning behind this moment is so tragic: This is the first time Amanda has heard her mother in 15 years, and can give her both closure and hope; the novelization of the game reveals that she believes her mother is still alive, and the story ends with her vowing to survive at all costs so she will one day reunite with Ellen. For the first time in over a decade, she has a reason to live, to survive against all odds.

Sadly, it’s not to be:

While Amanda did get closure, and presumably died hoping that her mother was still alive, knowing that the two would never see each other again makes Ellen’s message so perfectly bittersweet.

Mothers, Daughters, and Loss: A New Way to Watch the Alien Saga

Back in 2015, it was revealed that Neill Blomkamp was working on ‘Alien 5’, a new installment in Fox’s ‘Alien’ franchise that would be a direct sequel to ‘Aliens,’ ignoring both ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection.’ As time passed, news came that both Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn would come back as both Ripley and Hicks, along with a now-grown up Newt and, presumably, Lance Henriksen as Bishop.

As a fan of the series, this was one of the most exciting movie news I had seen in years; the thought of seeing Ellen Ripley on the big screen again for the first time since 1997 was a dream come true, and I eagerly followed every scrap of news, every piece of concept art, and even makeup tests. My dream sequel was finally coming together!

And then the movie was canceled.

While there’s still the faintest hope that the movie could be resurrected (if James Cameron’s words are any indication), it seems that, for now, Ellen Ripley’s story still ends with her sacrifice on Fiorina 161.

But what if it doesn’t?

Back in 2011, writer Rod Hilton proposed watching the Star Wars saga (which, at the time, was still only six movies) in what he called, ‘machete order.’ While his post explains it best, the basic gist is that you watch episodes 4 and 5, then 2 and 3, and then 6, which starts with the best film, includes (two) prequels, while also preserving the twist that Darth Vader is Luke’s dad. While musing if ‘Alien 5’ will ever be made, it recently dawned on me that the Alien franchise could be viewed in a similar manner; one of the biggest draws of ‘Alien 5’ was the idea that Ellen could get a happier ending than she did in the canon timeline, but thanks to this new viewing order, which takes the stories that work and – in keeping with current Hollywood trends – pretending that the ones that don’t never happened, she does.

So, what is this new viewing experience? It has two of the films and one of the videogames, experienced in this order:

  1. Alien

  2. Alien: Isolation

  3. Aliens.

For those who don’t know, ‘Alien: Isolation’ is a 2014 video game that follows Ellen’s daughter, Amanda, as she goes in search of the Nostromo’s flight recorder to find out what happened to her mother, only to be trapped aboard a space station that’s been decimated by a single Xenomorph, turning her quest into a fight for survival. It’s a tense, frightening experience, and after playing through it over a dozen times, I’ve come to regard it as a sequel to ‘Alien,’ hence its inclusion in this list. Thus, the saga begins with the first film, continues with the video game (which can be further enhanced by reading the novelization, which adds more history to Amanda and Ellen’s history together) and ends with the second film, pretending that ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection’ never happened.

While this fan-version of the saga is shorter, and ends with Ellen still alive, there’s a more subtle change that I didn’t realize until I had gone through these three tales again one after another: The ‘Alien’ saga has been about Ellen and her adventures with phallic aliens from beyond the furthest stars, but it’s also a parable about the dangers of greed, corrupt corporations, and those corporations doing anything and everything to increase their profits, no matter the cost in human suffering. The original four film saga was about Weyland-Yutani (and the military) trying and failing to get the Alien for their own purposes, and Ellen foiling them time and time again. In this new trilogy, the story arc is about Weyland-Yutani tearing a family apart in a blind pursuit of profit, and then that family successfully denying said corporation what it so desperately wants while healing and moving on with their lives: Amanda learns what happened to her mother and gets closure, while Ellen, having lost Amanda to cancer before waking up from stasis, manages to stop Weyland-Yutani for good, and saves a little girl from having to grow up without a mother, as Amanda did.

Of course, this isn’t official in any way; it’s just one fan’s version of the Alien saga that has a more hopeful, upbeat ending that lets us imagine all the good times ahead for Ellen. If Alien 5 is never made, this is a way for fans to still have a happy ending, free to decide for themselves what happens next. In my headcanon, Ellen officially adopts Newt, marries Hicks, Bishop is repaired and becomes the family’s robot-butler, Jones continues to be a little s*** head, and they all live happily ever after! Of course, there’s still Weyland-Yutani to deal with, but they’re soon bought out by Disney. And, in my opinion, that’s a far happier ending than seeing one of sci-fi’s greatest heroes being burnt to a crisp.

Favorite Moments: IT Recut as a Family Film

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

In honor of “It: Chapter Two’ being released tomorrow, I thought I’d share one of my favorite trailer recuts, which changes the 1990 miniseries ‘IT’ into a heartwarming tale of a concerned citizen dressing up as a clown to bring hope and joy to a town on the verge of bankruptcy and failure.

There are many trailer recuts out there, but ‘IT’ remains one of my favorites for its stellar use of uplifting music, corny taglines (Do you believe in magic?), and turning one of the most memorable monsters of the early 90’s into a being who only wants to save his community and bring happiness and hope to others.

What we can learn from ‘The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time!’

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45 weeks ago, we took a look at ‘Sharknado 5: Global Swarming’, and now, at long last, it’s time to take a look at the final film in the venerable series: ‘The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time!’

After five long years of sharknados taking out cites, going into space, becoming radioactive, and destroying the world, the series finally comes to an end with ‘The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time!’ which, having exhausted all other possibilities, sends the title monster back through time (the only other sensible option would have it going to the afterlife), with surfer-rurned-barternder-turned-sharknado killer Fin Shepard on a journey to stop the sharknados for good. Let’s journey along to see what valuable story lessons we can learn by watching sharks terrorize people throughout history.

Avoid abandoning a greater-scope villain after establishing them

In the previous film, ‘Global Swarming,’ we learned that the sharknados were not just a freak of nature, but were created by a malevolent shark god that Fin and friends (I never get tired of writing that) set out to stop. While they did stop the sharknados at the end of the fifth film (at the cost of every other human alive), it’s odd that the shark god isn’t mentioned in ‘It’s About Time’.

When we introduce a supernatural threat – or any threat so big that it effectively becomes the main antagonist for a franchise – it’s imperative not to have that threat dropped so quickly, especially when it’s a supernatural one. It’s logical to think that Fin would have to take out the shark god to prevent any further sharknados from being made, but its nowhere to be found. If our own greater-scope villains need to be dropped, a good reason needs to be established instead of never mentioning them again, hoping that audiences won’t notice. They will.

Establish solid rules for time travel, lest audiences get hopelessly confused

While traveling through time offers nearly endless possibilities for exciting storytelling, it can quickly become a mess of intersecting timelines, cause and effect, and how actions in the past affect the future (and that’s without getting into the grandfather paradox). ‘It’s About Time’ tries to make things simple by stating that everyone can only travel back in time once, but then it has Gil continuously going through different eras. When it comes to time travel, it’s best to make things as simple as possible. Better to have our audiences focus on the fun shenanigans going on, then wondering how such things are possible.

When doing time travel, consider bringing back minor characters for big roles

One of the things that ‘It’s About Time’ does best is bringing back minor characters for bigger roles in the story, like Bryan and Skye. While they may have served as cannon fodder in their original appearances, or had a small role that didn’t affect the story all that much, we don’t expect much from them. They’re background characters, ones who don’t take the spotlight. Thus, when they come back as main characters, they become underdogs who have a chance to shine and help save the day. Even better is if they’re in a completely new time and location (like the prehistoric era), as not only do they have to contend with being in the spotlight, but now they also have to try and survive in an environment they’re not familiar with.

Consider having monsters and antagonists from the future battle people from the past

One of the most enjoyable aspects of time travel stories is seeing people and technologies from different eras interact with one another. How, for example, would a modern-day person fare in the Revolutionary War era? Or in Ancient Egypt? How do technologically disadvantaged people fight off opponents from a different era? ‘It’s About Time’ has medieval knights, Revolutionary War soldiers, and Cowboys fight off sharks, and those battles are easily the highlights of the movie.

The reason these fights are so interesting is that the people of the past are automatically the underdog and have to fight harder to win. Cowboys have the advantage of guns when fighting sharks, but revolutionary war soldiers only have muskets, while knights are stuck with swords and bows, which makes audiences wonder how on earth they’re going to win. An even cleverer version of this trope is to have the people of the past take advantage of futuristic tech: When sharknados attack Revolutionary America, the British use a sharknado to gain an advantage in their war, almost changing the course of history in their favor.

When writing historical characters in time travel stories, the more authentic they are, the funnier they are

Another draw of time travel stories is being able to use famous people throughout history and put them in exciting fights and teamups with monsters and people from other times in history. Part of this draw is seeing how someone from one era coping with another, and how they would react to, say, modern weapons and technology. However, for this trope to be most useful, it’s important to make historical characters as accurate as possible; much of the humor/awesome factor in their appearances is that they take things seriously. While comedic or light-hearted time travel stories can make famous people goofballs (Think ‘Bill and Ted’), it is possible to go too far: When Finn and his friends go to the Revolutionary War era, I was excited at the thought of seeing George Washington fighting a sharknado. Instead, we get a man who’s more interested in taking a nap and cracking jokes instead of fighting or taking the situation seriously.

Consider having someone alter history in a time travel story, even when they know it’ll hurt them

While ‘It’s About Time’ engages in all the standard time-travel tropes (meeting famous figures, having historical characters and groups fight monsters from other eras, etc.) and get into debates about changing the future to avert a personal catastrophe (Nova trying to save his grandfather), the film smartly changes things up by giving Finn an impossible choice: He has a chance to stop sharknados forever by traveling through time, but at the cost of losing his son, who will never be born, and even be erased from Finn’s memory.

So often, time travel stories are about changing the future for the better, or preserving it, but rarely do we see stories where travelers doing the right thing know they will suffer greatly, even if its for the greater good. By having our characters lose something important to them, whether it’s a loved one, a job, or a dream, and being willing to let them go to save so many others, we give them an unparalleled chance to shine and show how brave and heroic they can be.

If it fits the theme of a series, there’s nothing wrong with a happy ending

It’s a classic trope: The characters of a story manage to succeed in their fight. They achieve their goals, get what they want, and live happily ever after. It’s so overused that it’s a scenario that could easily turn into a parody, and many stories try to subvert it by using a darker, or more bittersweet ending where not everything is right or well. But there’s nothing wrong with a happy ending, especially if it’s well-earned, and the end of the Sharknado series has a very well-earned one indeed: Fin manages to restart history and create a timeline where sharknados don’t exist, saving all his friends and acquaintances, and even Gil, with the very last shot of the series has Al Roker declaring that it’s going to be a beautiful day with nothing unusual going on. It’s a satisfying conclusion that ties everything up, and gives everyone a happy ending without any tease or hint of further adventures, giving the characters – and us – closure.

And so, after a year, we finally finish our marathon of all the Sharknado films. Turn in next week, when we’ll do an analysis of the series as a whole.

Favorite Moments: Goofy Alien Resurrection Subtitles

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video:

Why it’s great:

I can’t say why this is great without spoiling it: Make sure closed captioning is turned on and press play (Note that this video is not safe for work).

Done?

What I adore about this video isn’t the clip itself, but the fact that whoever wrote the captions for for it decided to go nuts and turn the scene of Xenomorphs killing one of their own to escape a cell into them arguing about Five Nights at Freddy’s and eventually resorting to cursing in internet slang.

What makes these captions so bizzare is that Movie Clips is a company that legally hosts clips from movies and TV shows for fans to watch. Taking a scene and using wildly inaccurate subtitles conjures the image of a disgruntled employee deciding to have some fun behind his or her boss’ backs. I, for one, am glad that he or she did, as it takes a serious scene showcasing alien intelligence and remakes it as a comedy that turns the terrifying Xenomorph into cursing, slang-using aliens who hate the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise. Even better, it retroactively making it easy to imagine aliens in previous films being immature jerks saying, “Comin’ to kill ya, LOL,’ ‘Haha u ded,’ and the like whenever they kill someone, which adds a whole new layer of entertainment to this long-running franchise.

Bravo to you, anonymous caption writer!