Not to be cruel or anything, but may we safely assume that Sharon Stone's Hollywood career is now over? Honestly, who, aside from Stone herself, who hasn't had a hit in years and is probably worried about making the mortgage, has been clamoring for a sequel to Basic Instinct? That movie is fourteen years old. Fourteen. In pop-cultural terms, 1992 may as well have been the Cretaceous Period. I seriously doubt the primary movie-going demographic these days -- which would've been in diapers in '92 -- has ever even heard of Sharon Stone or seen that notorious leg-crossing scene. And I don't think we, ahem, older viewers have shown much interest in the further adventures of Catherine Trammel, either.
Now, I've got nothing against older movies (as a quick glance at my All-Time Favorite Movies list will confirm), nor do I even object to sequels in general (although most aren't worth the lighter fluid to ignite them), but I really think there ought to be a statute of limitations when it comes to making them. I'd say five years is probably the most optimistic window for sequeling. That's how much time elapsed between Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and that seemed like a really long gap, even accounting for the difference in perceived time between adolescence (when it takes forever for anything to happen), and adulthood (when five years pass in a relative eye-blink).
If you go much beyond five years, however, the stink of irrelevance begins to set in. To put it more bluntly, nobody cares anymore after so long. Nobody, that is, except fading stars desperate to revist their past successes and corporate bean-counters who think that movies can be "franchised" like the various flavors of Coke. I hear that Basic Instinct 2 happened mostly because of the fading-star scenario, but in general I tend to think the suits are the bigger problem. In their sad, MBA-addled little minds, audiences will go for any half-hearted, half-baked, disappointing, way-past-its-sell-by-date shadow of a better movie so long as it's got a familiar "brand" attached to the title somehow. It's the only explanation for all those sequels that nobody ever asked for and which arrive years after anyone may have wanted to see them.
Take, for example, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, a movie you probably didn't see and may not even remember from 2004. My hunch is that this mediocre but ultimately harmless film was conceived as a project completely separate from the original Dirty Dancing, but some pencil-pusher somewhere said, "hey, it's a feel-good period-piece dance picture, just like that Patrick Swayze movie from the '80s, so let's slap the words 'Dirty Dancing' into the title. That'll draw more people than just plain old Havana Nights!" The flaw in this plan, aside from the fact that DD:HN has no connection with DD except a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo from Swayze (who is not playing the same character, by the way), is that no one that I know ever really wanted a sequel to Dirty Dancing, and if they had, the most optimum time to do one would've been around 1990 or so, only a couple years after the original film was released.
Havana Nights is perhaps not the best example of what I'm trying to illustrate because it is not a direct sequel. Let's try another one, something that uses the same cast, characters, and setting as the original film. Ah, I know: last year's The Legend of Zorro, a follow-up to The Mask of Zorro that arrived nearly a decade after the original film. Now, I didn't actually see Legend, so I don't know if it was any good or not. But the issue here isn't the quality of the sequel, it's whether there was any actual demand for one. I don't believe there was. I don't recall hearing anyone say, "Man, I wish Antonio Banderas would put the mask on one more time!" I'm not aware that there are any Internet message boards or fan clubs devoted to TMoZ, nor did I ever sense any groundswell of public sentiment for more swashbuckling in 19th Century Spanish California. So where did the project come from? Was it Banderas, agitating for a repeat of his most commercially successful film? Maybe, but he doesn't strike me as having that sort of ego. More likely it was a producer who still owns the rights to the character and wanted to try and squeeze a little more lucre out of them. There was no artistic or storytelling reason to do another Zorro movie; the decision was entirely motivated by the hope that a familiar name would lure in the movie-goers who enjoyed the first one. But did it work? I don't know the box-office figures for Legend, but I suspect it didn't do so hot. It certainly didn't seem to have a lot of buzz associated with it.
Perhaps the worst case of this kind of brand-based moviemaking-- assuming that it ever actually gets made -- will be the long-rumored fourth Indiana Jones movie. Every six weeks or so, I hear another breathless report out of Hollywood that claims it will happen after one more rewrite, or that we're just waiting on Spielberg's schedule or something, but honestly what's the point? Last Crusade came out in 1989, fifteen years ago. If they started filming tomorrow, it'd still be about a year before Indy IV makes it onto the screen, which means it'll be closer to two decades than one since the last entry in the series. Doesn't that strike anyone as wrong? I love the Indy character as much as anyone, but he is a product of the 1980s. Shouldn't we just let him stay there? Didn't we all make our peace with his story being over a long, long time ago?
Ah, but that's common-sense speaking, not franchise-based thinking. The franchise mentality says that you can always sell the public another burger. Or, in the case of movies, it says that the idea worked once, so it'll work again and again and again until it finally stops working, once the premise has been drained of all its potential and the coolness of the character has been utterly extinguished. (See Bond, James, among many others.) But movies aren't burgers, at least not to me, especially not when the meat has been sitting out for a while. At some point, it just becomes pathetic to try and revive some properties, and someone -- someone like, say, Sharon Stone, or the increasingly geriatric Harrison Ford, if that next Indy film does ever get made -- inevitably gets humiliated by it. I hate to see actors and filmmakers I admire and characters I love humiliated like this. I wish the Hollywood execs would think about that before they start greenlighting stuff that no one particularly wants to see...