It’s Batman week here on the interwebs with The Dark Knight Rises releasing to theaters this Thursday and it’s good to see that I’m not the only one amped and ready to get blown away. I’m setting my expectations high and trusting Nolan not to let me down. And to get prepared to get blown away I’m doing the Dark Knight Trilogy marathon and midnight showing at our local Cinemark. The publicity and hype behind this last installment is bound to let down or live up to anyone’s expectations. But! I’ll let you my thoughts after the credits roll. This article is about the best and the worst of trilogies, what makes them work and why I think that it’s the perfect format for an adventure epic.
I think that if you’re a story teller and want to tell a story of your character or your world you have 3 movies of my attention to get it done. The format is simple: The first movie has to tell the origin of the story, the background of the main character, his/her motivations, and the conflict that he/she has that will move the character forward through the narrative. The second movie is an adventure, basically. We learn more about our hero through an antithesis that challenges him/her. The third (and hopefully final) movie is the resolution. This is where we find things come full circle for our hero, conflict is settled, and he/she faces his/her fears and conquers them.
Now that we got the basic rules of trilogies down let’s see how many were able to achieve this and which ones weren’t. And I’m only going to talk about the ones that are most popular and that I’m most familiar with.
Original Star Wars is a no-brainer of a first choice of how it fits into the formula. We have Luke Skywalker thrust into his adventure by fate in A New Hope, his training as a Jedi Knight and confrontation of the villain Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back and even though the weakest of the three Return of the Jedi has a strong resolution and reconciliation and redemption of Anakin Skywalker when Luke saves him from true evil. The hero tale is greatly in the foreground of the war of the Rebellion which gives more interest to its characters and world. Who doesn’t love these movies!?
Lord of the Rings– Peter Jackson knew exactly what he was doing. He filmed all three at once knowing that they all had to be top-notch and successful. We have two stories that are perfectly told: Frodo and Sam’s travels and Aragorn’s acceptance of responsibility. Every movie has great build-up, conflict and resolution but connects to each other movie without the viewer feeling lost.
Spider-Man- As I said before in my reboot article these films aren’t perfect but they do follow the formula very well. In Spider-Man we are introduced to Peter Parker, his struggles in high school and his infatuation to Mary-Jane. He has conflict with the Green Goblin which sets up a series long tension with his best friend Harry. Spider-Man 2, carries this tension and creates a clash with Doctor Octavius and escalates the Peter/Harry story when Harry finds out who Spider-Man really is. Spider-Man 3, folds this conflict up in and interesting way.
Pirates of the Caribbean– For some reason a lot of people don’t like this trilogy but I think it did a very good job with its story telling. It’s true that there are about 50 different plots going through the series but that’s what’s so great; everyone has a motivation, a want, a goal and they have to go through various channels to get what they desire. I don’t count the 4th as part of the epic; it was more of spin-off and didn’t do anything for me.
Toy Story– The whole theme of these movies is the relationship that the toys have with their owners. That theme carries the story through all of the films, and creates a world that we can feel a part of. And even if there is no singular thread of plot running through the movies it does well to tie up that theme in all the installments.
Back to the Future did an excellent job creating a dynamic of the Marty/Doc relationship and sets out individual plots through all parts to hold the audience’s attention. Why it’s lower on my list is because there no central plot to tie all of these together but all movies can stand on it’s own.
X-Men- I used to be a huge fan of these movies but they wear out during time. But a positive thing about them is that the villain has different avenues to seek equality. In X-Men Magneto’s strategy is to make everyone mutant, in X2 Stryker aims to kill all the mutants, and in X-Men: The Last Stand the heroes and villains ally together because the enemy wishes to change all the mutants back to “normal.” The theme holding these together is alienation and it capitalizes on each installment.
Star Wars Prequels– Okay, I’ll give in and say that the Episodes I and II were horrible; they just lacked the magic that the originals had. But my all-time favorite Star Wars movie goes to Revenge of the Sith. I believe that the whole saga is about the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Revenge of the Sith not only has a corrupt government story but a tragedy of a hero. Maybe the magic in the originals is because they were a single epic while the prequels were a tragedy.
Indiana Jones– Honestly, as a trilogy Indiana Jones is a train wreck. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic and I’m not criticizing what it did and how it holds up under time. But Temple of Doom was just plain awful; yes, it was an adventure but all the aesthetics were horrible, the characters and plot were off-putting. My favorite, The Last Crusade, had more of a back story for Indy, had the humor and great adventure. I won’t even get into the 4th as it ruins all credibility of a trilogy any way. What I have a problem with is that it had no idea what it was; I like the idea of Indiana Jones being a Bond-esque kind of adventurer where his background didn’t have any prevalence. It went back and forth with the idea and didn’t succeed.
What are your favorite trilogies? Take a look at this list to refresh and share your thoughts.