If it worked the first time, then why not try again? Sequels offer an easy alternative to real innovation, and while often times they can drastically improve upon an original, it appears as though both the film and videogame industries are becoming increasingly reliant on franchises.

Adam Rottenberg

This past summer saw the release of many original films; however, the highest-grossing and most anticipated films all had one thing in common: They were sequels. From “Spider-Man 2” to “Shrek 2,” franchises dominated box-office receipts.

Original ideas may garner critical support, yet they always seem to fall short of the big-budget blockbusters that studios keep pumping out. Complicating the situation, this new breed of sequel actually manages to either maintain the level of quality associated with the original, or even improve upon it.

The film industry has always looked to creating franchises to generate revenue, but the summer of 2004 shows just how out of control the popcorn movies have become. Studios are actively making films with the sole purpose of future sequels. DreamWorks’ recently released hit “Shark Tale” had a sequel greenlit even before the original arrived in theaters.

Yet for every “Shark Tale” success story, there is a “Van Helsing” — a film that epitomizes the crisis. In place of heart, plot or even dialogue, Stephen Sommers used glossy computer effects and set pieces to hype the seemingly marketable hero.

Not only did critics rightfully lambaste Sommers’ train wreck, but viewers were less than enthused with the end result.

But a few high-profile failures in the potential franchise department don’t mask the fact that nearly every high-profile sequel took off. The trend seems to be on the rise rather than on the downswing.

Adding fuel to this ever-growing fire is the proliferation of comic book features. Whereas audiences can only infer that the studio intended to make 600 “Van Helsing” films, there is little doubt that every single comic movie is viewed as a potential franchise. Just looking at 2005, the end is nowhere near as “Batman” and the “Fantastic Four” return to the big screen.

While the film business feels the sequel burden in its marquee summer titles, the videogame industry has lost its sense of originality entirely. What was the last major release that didn’t carry a numeral or colon in its title?

As the holidays approach, the peak season for videogame sales, not a single new title sits at the top of gamers’ most wanted lists.

Nintendo has its fifth “Metroid” title, Sony has the sixth “Grand Theft Auto” and Microsoft has a second “Halo.” Do none of those companies think that they are capable of creating a new series? Granted, “Halo” represents one of the few new franchises to gain popularity in the past few years, it doesn’t camouflage the epidemic plaguing the gaming world.

As budgets for games increase and profit margins decrease, it only becomes feasible to release what is guaranteed to sell.

Yet if the industry continues down this path, then the consumers will be forced to constantly replay the same game over and over. The tides have already turned in that direction as each installment in these series, while improving upon their predecessors; rarely innovate beyond the confines of the already existing gameplay.

Is there any way that the industry can curb these harrowing trends? Unfortunately, as long as originality isn’t valued as highly as profit, there’s no end in sight.

And it isn’t just limited to the entertainment realm, as franchises sprawl out of control across America and the rest of the world. The always topical “South Park” attacked the problem head on with its Oct. 27 episode, “Something Wal-Mart This Way Comes.”

The town immediately falls in love with the superstore, but in time comes to grow weary of its side-effects that prevent smaller businesses from competing.

While observing the spread of corporate entities correlates not only with Ann Arbor, but also the entertainment industry, the problem offers no viable solutions.

Seemingly the best action flicks and the best videogames are all sequels, but they maintain such a high quality that it’s difficult to complain until it’s too late.

Although it may be great to play the highly touted sequel or sit through the high-octane franchise blockbuster, something must be said for innovation. Originality needs to be embraced, not brushed aside before it’s too late.

 

Despite his posturing, Adam secretly loves “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Exchange fan fiction with him at arotten@umich.edu.

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