The first blog in this series looked at some of the inherent weaknesses in the prequel and origin story concepts, which have to fight an uphill battle for meaning when set against an endpoint which has been predetermined for them. Whatever has come before- a work famous enough to warrant a prequel follow-up- is clearly set in stone, and trying to create a worthwhile and relevant addition to this self-sufficient tale is a major challenge, which some might say that few modern prequels take the trouble to attempt.
Far worse, however, are those all-too-numerous entries which consider the original not a masterpiece to be added to, but merely a resource to be mined- a stepping stone, treated with no more respect than anything else that one would casually tread over.
At the core of my contention that this is the worst of prequel sins is a simple philosophy. It is, to my mind, the responsibility of a prequel (or sequel) to maintain slavish devotion to the original.
After all, the purpose of making a prequel is to cash in on a popular film or television show. It makes business sense, for the same reason that merchandising does. The original product is well-liked, and comes with a built-in audience, which the prequel does not have to work to cultivate. The original has a built-in setting and basic back story which the prequel does not need to establish. Even the ending status quo is already defined (a double-edged sword, as we previously discussed).
In essence, a prequel is largely a parasite, feeding off of everything (from in-universe details to real-world audience) that the original work has.
To my mind, it follows that it is the inherent moral responsibility of any intellectually-honest filmmaker or producer to thus conform one-hundred percent to that original work. The prequel is receiving everything, without having to do the work, from this original entity. Like honoring one’s parents, it only makes sense to respect that to which one owes so much… in this case, a work which was created by an author, in good faith- establishing details, characters, and settings that were meant to be ‘canon.’
To then take that original work, benefit off of it, but ignore or retcon details as ‘errors’ being corrected by the new installment, or to ignore those details as ‘too restrictive’ to the new storytelling, is the worst kind of arrogance and selfish presumption- both disrespectful of the original creators’ work, and indefensibly self-centered. If one is willing to assume all the benefits carried along by a work- everything that has been established and handed forth on a silver platter, including audience, one assumes responsibility for the ‘baggage,’ too- the continuity intrinsic to the very same setting.
(This applies with sequels as well, which is why Doctor Who fans like myself get so steamed at the absence of a Valeyard in his proper spot, or recent implications that the 13-regeneration limit might have been ignored (which it fortunately wasn’t). Those details were established in good faith, by an author that was creating official lore… which a new creator has no right to come in and contradict because they decided to continue on the franchise, but didn’t want to deal with what was previously created!)
Instead, however, most prequels not only fail to research or conform to the original that they’re leeching off of, they actually invalidate it by their contradictions! Prequels establish incompatible facts, situations, or character relationships that don’t match up to the original, so that they become a backstory to ‘a set of events that happened mostly like the original’- but they cannot actually be the true backstory of the film they’re supposed to be a prequel to, as the details conflict. Much as Marty Mcfly couldn’t return to ‘his’ present in Back to the Future II, these new prequels change the past and lead up to a new present that simply can’t be the one from the original work, making them the prequels to an unproduced reimagining (A Biff Tannen’s Pleasure Paradise version of the original work, if you will.)
This is especially prevalent in science fiction and superhero films, for some reason- with entries like Star Trek: Enterprise, X-men First Class, and even the Star Wars prequels (‘Your uncle thought your father should have stayed here and not gotten involved?’ I guess I missed that part in Attack of the Clones!)
But the difficulty with sci-fi go deeper still, to the very fictional universe- or Secondary World, as Tolkien termed it- of the franchises themselves… and an unfortunate ignorance of how basic aesthetics can reinforce or alienate from a shared universe.
But that is, perhaps, an involved enough topic to warrant a separate discussion… which we’ll have in the series’ next installment.
About Andrew Gilbertson
Forged in the fires of internet message board debates on Nitcentral.com, professional video editor Andrew Gilbertson has always been a filmmaker and writer. At last count, he’s edited over 40 short film projects in a roughly 8-year period, all of which are showcased for free at www.nolinecinemas.com- along with short stories, audio dramas, and podcasts. But his primary effort at the present is the Heavens Declare series, a sci-fi novel saga that he hopes to have ready for Grail Quest Books within the next year or so.
He currently shares a suburban home with Sarah Gilbertson, the love of his life, and a newly-minted third member of the family, in a town that he’s geekily gleeful about sharing the same name with the hometown of a Doctor Who companion…