Sometimes a film series gets it the most right the third time around. My examples are from two big-budget- B-movie franchises.
I originally had this idea shortly after seeing Peter Jackson’s bloated retelling of “King Kong” (2005). Among other problems, my biggest gripe with Jackson’s version was that it was unreasonably long and that a film about a giant ape tearing up stuff should move quickly and not spend too much time on the little people yammering (or in the case of Jackson’s film there’s too much time spent on everything). The original 1933 film was a very brisk 100 minutes. Whenever Jackson’s Kong came up in conversation I kept pointing to the underrated “Jurassic Park III” (which doesn’t get a lot of moviegoer love) as the example of how a monster movie should be told. What I admire about Jurassic Park III is that its director, Joe Johnston, knows that the film is about dinosaurs and that people aren’t really that interested in lengthy plot set ups or extended character-driven scenes as much as they are interested in seeing the dinosaurs chase the characters and tear up stuff. Clocking in at an efficient 92 minutes (and that’s with credits), “JPIII” gets through the necessary exposition succinctly and then gets down to the action. “Jurassic Park” (1993) and “JP:The Lost World” (1997) (both have running times over 2 hours) have their strengths and weaknesses (and certainly Spielberg’s first entry is a much better movie overall) but in my book they lack the start-to-finish efficiency and punch that “JPIII” achieves. To be clear, I am not claiming that “JPIII” is a great movie; I am merely saying that as films in this genre go, this one is paced almost perfectly and has a properly balanced ratio of exposition/action.
Here’s my favorite scene (It’s missing the first few minutes which builds the tension nicely)
Mission Impossible III
Director J.J. Abrams’ Mission Impossible III (2006) pulled the franchise out of the hole that John Woo’s MI:II (2000) had last left it in. Woo’s action skills did not mesh well with the series; lots of overblown action/melodrama/music (and yet the film is often dull) that all teetered on the edge of parody. Brian DePalma’s first entry (1996) wasn’t much better. That film is uneven, confusing, marred by logic problems (though none of the MI films dare to aspire to John Le Carre) and frequently smothered by DePalma’s none-too-subtle style. When the third entry arrived in the summer of 2006, the film was considered a disappointment at the box office which is a shame because it was a large improvement in all departments. The action, while not amazing, is highly effective. Exposition is clear and to the point. I like to think that Brad Bird’s “Ghost Protocal” (2011), which was also very good and also very similar to “III”, was influenced to some degree by the straightforward execution of Abrams’ film.
I really love the effectiveness of the opening scene. The acting, directing and timing of the cuts are perfect; signaling to the viewer that this will be a better movie than they were expecting…
Sometimes, in an effort to up the ante, filmmakers will inflate the various elements of their films for fear of failing the audience’s expectations. The hardest decision to make in these roller-coaster, action films is when to say when. Sometimes, just sticking to the essentials gets you where you want to be. Sometimes 90 minutes says it better than 140. Sometimes dialing back is better than cranking it up. Sometimes the single is better than side two of Dark Side of the Moon.