O.k. I’m aware that I’ll probably ruffle some feathers with this one, but as summer, i.e., the time of summer blockbusters, comes to a close, I’ve recently found myself contemplating some of the many film franchises that are popular among us nerds/geeks/etc., and, in particular, the ones I think never probably should have become franchises.
The first is Highlander. Now, I should say at the start, I cannot overstate how much I love the first movie. It’s one that could have easily been a cinematic disaster. Seriously, it stars a French guy playing a medieval Scots highlander, while the Scottish guy plays an Egypto-Spaniard. But damn, the movie just works somehow. Lambert is surprisingly confident and engaging as Connor MacLeod/Russell Nash, while Sean Connery as Ramirez and Clancy Brown as Kurgan just chew up the scenery whenever they’re on screen. And Queen’s soundtrack is nothing short of brilliant – it’s just a perfect storm of wonderful weirdness.
And that’s where I think it should have ended. Highlander should have remained a cult favorite, a lone flash of improbable brilliance, one of those movies successive generations hear about, discover and enjoy, kind of like The Warriors.
But instead of that, there are now a total of five (!) sequel movies, two live-action TV series, an animated series and two animated movies. Most of that I didn’t even bother watching (and I never will). I saw the second movie (The Quickening) when it was released because I liked the first one so much, even though I had misgivings going into it.
Walking out of the theater, I concealed my disappointment in front of whoever I went to see it with, but I remember thinking, WTF did I just watch? I also watched a fair amount of the first TV series back in the 1990s, and I’ll admit some episodes are watchable – and I realize that it’s really popular in some quarters. But like all of the other follow-up material, I think it’s just conceptually wrong and, to me, pointless. That first sequel already quite clearly demonstrated that the core concept really only worked in the first movie, and it gets ruined if you start fiddling with it. But fiddle with it they did, continuously.
So now, of course, there’s going to be a reboot. I’m definitely one of the contingent who thinks that famous tagline should have been heeded: “There can be only one.”
And that brings me to the one that I think will be even more controversial: Indiana Jones.
Again, I can’t stress enough that when I first saw it, I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark like few other films at the time. It has, admittedly, lost some of its luster for me over the years, in that I now find myself wincing or cringing at some of the stereotypical portrayals of non-white people, but it’s still a movie I can watch and mostly enjoy as a rollicking adventure even now.
I can’t say the same about any of the sequels, though. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is forgettable tripe (which actually magnifies the casual racism in Raiders). I think the oft-praised Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is similarly overrated – although I’ll admit that when I first saw it in the theater when it was released, I liked it well enough, just because I so wanted to see a good Indiana Jones movie after Temple, and because I really like Sean Connery. But I found that it just didn’t hold up for me after repeated viewings (in fact, Connery, playing Indy’s father, now annoys me more than anything else). And that whole opening sequence, in which we’re introduced to young Indiana, and learn the secret origin of his hat and bullwhip, is basically superfluous. Did anybody really want or need to know any of that? But the idea underlying that sequence was milked for the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series, in which we learned so much more about Indy’s early years that we never knew we wanted to know – and in which he met pretty much everyone who was anyone in early 20th century world history.
And then there’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. *Heavy sigh.* The less said about that, the better – its sole redeeming quality is that it brought back the delightful Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, although even that was bittersweet, because we learn that Indy and Marion did not stay together after the events of Raiders, and that he is in fact an absentee father.
The thing is, unlike in the case of Highlander, I think the whole Indiana Jones concept is tailor-made for a series of adventure stories. I just think that the franchise should have gone in a different direction. For the longest time, whenever I happened to re-watch any of the post-Raiders material, I realized that it always seemed like something was missing, and it finally hit me a few years ago (basically, after I saw Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on TV): Marion Ravenwood. She’s awesome! To me, Marion, as portrayed by Allen, was absolutely crucial to what made Raiders such a good movie. She is a character who is as likeable, distinctive and memorable as Indy. I see Raiders as the set-up for an ongoing adventuring partnership between the two – as indicated by Marion’s final line in the movie, “Well, I know what I’ve got here…” before taking Indy out for a drink (it’s kind of like that “beginning of a beautiful friendship” moment at the end of Casablanca). That should have been the point of departure for every sequel.
But alas, nobody saw the value in that, so for me Raiders of the Lost Ark will probably be the only Indiana Jones story I ever enjoy – well, that and a few of the comic books published by Marvel in the early 1980s…