Let's talk about sequels for a couple minutes. I think we can all agree that sequels are most often not nearly as good as the original. There have been exceptions. Off the top of my head I can think of Aliens, Evil Dead II, Terminator 2, Psycho II, The Bride of Frankenstein, and Magnum Force. Every one of those movies was as good or nearly as good as the original. The reason every single one of those sequels worked as well as they did as that the writers and filmmakers found a way to expand the universe created in the first picture without losing sight of the original narrative. One major element always remained consistent while the general story itself evolved.
In Aliens, we got more aliens. I mean really, that was the major change. It went from being 1 lone woman vs. 1 unknown acid-spitting xenomorph to a team lead by said woman vs. multiple acid-spitting night creepers. The elements that made the first movie great remained generally intact. They were only expanded to add a new level of suspense and thrill for the audience. Had it followed the exact same 1 on 1 formula the movie probably wouldn't have worked. At that point in the franchise the ante needed to be upped to draw us back in. To make us say, “how is she going to get out of here alive this time?” The suspense that worked so well in the first movie just couldn't work the same way a second time because we had already seen the monster. Evil Dead II was essentially, a remake of the original film done in the way the director wanted to do the film the first time but couldn't due to a lack of money to do it. It worked too. Again, the scenario was mostly unchanged but the universe was expanded. New supporting characters, bigger set pieces, and a deeper exploration into the powers of the Necronomicon spellbook and its history. The Necronomicon, if you folks don't know, was an ancient Sumerian text known as 'The Book of the Dead.' Of course the Necronomicon as we know it in pop culture, is largely influenced by the book as it was used in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. It is an essential plot point in Raimi's Evil Dead movies. Anyway, as to not veer off topic, one can see the commonality among great sequels.
Bad sequels have a lot in common too. Like I said, they usually break the rules the previous film or films put into place. Take A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge. If I were to watch that movie wholly on its own merits, there are things I can really get into. First off, Robert Englund is always amazing. One of the greatest actors ever when it comes to the use of body language. He is a guy who can say so many words with his hands, facial expressions, walk, and shoulder movements. Of course when when wearing a striped sweater and a clawed glove, he's at his very best. Other merits of the film would include the awesome Clu Gulagar, the very creepy score, and some pretty awesome kills. Now the bad: and no I'm not talking about the homosexual subtext people have been debating since 1985. I'm talking about that rule breaking again. It was established in the first movie that Freddy Krueger was a powerful demonic force when encountered in the domain of dreams. The only way he could be hurt or killed was to be pulled into reality by the dreamer he was attacking. Nancy succeeds in bringing Freddy into reality and waiting for him are a bunch of dangerous booby traps she has specifically prepared. In Freddy's Revenge, even knowing his human vulnerability he seemingly wants to inhabit the body of the very human Jesse and use him to strike again in the world of the living. Say what? Like in the first movie there is still some supernatural presence to him even whilst walking around in reality. However, to inhabit a human body he opens himself up to human vulnerability. We can be shot, stabbed, set on fire, and blown up and we aren't dusting it off like Fred does in the land of nightmares. So as you see, the story clearly makes a dumb-dumb choice. It defies Wes Craven's original assertion that Freddy is just as mortal as the rest of us when playing in our plane of existence.
One of the biggest things I hear from people, particularly genre buffs, is that somehow sequels will “ruin” the original movie. My response to that is, “seek counseling.” The events displayed in a sequel should have no effect on your opinion of the movie that precedes it. It’s madness to think otherwise. If the sequel sucks, the original still exists by way of DVD, digital copy, VHS, and or film print for your enjoyment. You can opt not to buy the sequel when it comes out and just end your collection of whatever franchise it belongs to with the last film in said franchise you enjoyed. Which in some cases may be the first film. You can pretend it doesn’t even exist! Believe me, that's what I do with a lot of remakes. Oh and Jason X and Seed of Chucky.
Since I mentioned it, let's talk remakes for a second. Remakes are not technically sequels because they are supposed to exist outside of the original established universe. They are an attempt to start over or restructure the previous universe. So in a way they are more forgivable than sequels that completely disregard the preceding film's laws. Then in another way they are not forgivable. One of my problems with the vast majority of remakes is this: if you vastly alter the characters or plot you're just making a new movie altogether. So why must you use the title, character names, and basic story elements of the original film? Why not just make an entirely different film with your own characters. Of course the answer is generally because Friday the 13th is a bigger name than The Killer in the Woods and thus, guaranteed to sell more theater tickets and merchandise.
The other real issue I have with remakes is that the marketing machine tries to pretend like the original didn't exist. This is because they want the general public to buy the new vision so they may make plenty of profitable sequels. They don't want you to think you've seen it all before or that you have an alternative. For instance, last year, Warner Brothers (Who now owns the original studio New Line Cinema) released a Nightmare on Elm Street box set featuring the first 8 films starring Robert Englund. Guess whom they had on the box art? Jackie Earl Haley, the new Freddy Krueger. Why would they do that? No offense to Jackie but he had absolutely no involvement in those movies. It is a cheap marketing ploy to make young folk who may have never seen the original believe they will be getting a product very much like the new one they liked. Of course the studio only did this after they realized people hadn't forgotten about the old films. I see now that the box set has been re-released with Robert Englund on the cover, as should be. Apparently the new A Nightmare on Elm Street didn't come close to matching the success of the Robert Englund films and people still envision Mr. Englund as Freddy Krueger. He was the voice of their childhood nightmares after all.
If Warner Brothers had waited at least another 10 years to reboot the Freddy Krueger brand they may have had more success. This is another problem we run into with remakes. The last film featuring Robert Englund was in 2003. He was doing press for and promoting new Freddy Krueger TV projects, comic books, and film sequels up until about a year before they announced the 2010 remake. No one had forgotten about Freddy Krueger or Robert Englund. So Robert suddenly being replaced and a remake being announced looked mighty suspicious. It looked like nothing more than an attempt to “update.” Which is something you hear a lot these days. “Hey that old movie looked like it was made in 1984. We can make it so much better with our CGI." The flaws and technical limitations of the old movie are really just part of the charm. Studios don't seem to understand this mentality. They also underestimated the role Robert Englund played into the character's success. In their attempt to keep anyone from being reminded of the original movie, they only reminded us of how great the old one really is.
In my mind, remaking a movie that is 50-100 years old is no issue. It re-introduces the movie-going public to concepts and characters that have fallen out of popularity or that have just been replaced in the public's mind by literally thousands of other movies. This can in turn stir up interest in seeking out the original film. It can also get studios to get off their ass and commission proper DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the old movie. They will view it as a worthy investment.
So whether you're talking sequels, prequels, or remakes, there's a lot to consider. You have to analyze each movie on its own and then see how well it correlates with the source material. Good movies can come from sequels and remakes if the new writers and filmmakers embrace the material as their own while doing their best to maintain the integrity of the franchise's starting point. It is a simple concept that is often times marred by artistic arrogance, pretention, studio pressure, and the need to make a buck. Just remember, no matter how badly a sequel or prequel fails, we always have the original to run back to. The original must be cherished for without it: there is no sequel and there is no remake.