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Freddy and Jason and Reese and Julia

Ahh, movie sequels: the perpetual bliss of knowing what happens next. But what if Hollywood runs out of old films for remakes, prequels, and crossovers? A plan that will save the movie industry.

Just before buying my ticket the other night for Johnny English, the new Rowan Atkinson comedy, I felt a brief moment of uncertainty. The movie was supposed to be a spoof of James Bond, and though I’d seen loads of movies like that, I’d also heard that the main character, Johnny English, had originally appeared in a series of commercials for an English credit card, but I’d never seen any of those.

Huh? British commercials? Such an unsettling whiff of unpredictability nearly froze me in my tracks as the line drew closer to the ticket counter.

So, what else was showing? I inched forward and began a quick scan of the marquee and at once was bathed in the comfort of familiarity.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle was a possibility—not only was it a sequel, it was a sequel of a movie based on a popular TV show. The Hulk was based on a famous comic book, one that, reliably enough, had once been made into its own popular TV show. How to choose? Then I considered Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which had even more promise—not only was it a sequel but, better yet, it was a sequel of a sequel, and so was Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over. While The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was unfortunately not a sequel, at least it was based on a comic book, and even more satisfying, the characters in the comic book were characters I’d known and loved since childhood: Dr. Jekyll, Tom Sawyer, Captain Nemo, and the Invisible Man.

The sequel Bad Boys II also promised entertainment without the threat of any messy surprises, as did the new Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie, The Cradle of Life (which held the honorable rank of being a sequel of a movie based on an action-packed video game). Though The Italian Job had no comforting II or 3 (or VIII or 22) attached to it, at least it was a remake—of the 1969 British caper movie of the same title. I hadn’t seen the original, but somebody must have liked it enough to venture a remake, and that was encouraging. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was based on a Disney theme-park ride, and oh, how I enjoyed the memory of barreling through water and scary skeletons when I was a kid.

The only problem was, as I approached ever closer to that ticket counter, I realized that I’d already seen every single one of these movies. How in the world could I have forgotten that? Maybe, I thought, because the gun battles, fist fights, explosions, and car crashes in one movie were so reassuringly similar to the gun battles, fist fights, explosions, and car crashes in the other movies. Now that was indeed a comforting thought—in the future, I would no longer have to hesitate under the marquee and worry about which sequel to watch, if all the movies seemed like sequels of each other.

The teenaged girl at the ticket counter stared at me, her eyes flickering with mild curiosity at my indecision.

So in one bold move I handed her the price of admission and stated in a firm voice, ‘Johnny English, please!’ Sure, it was a risk, but on the other hand, maybe that credit-card commercial the movie was based upon would resemble other commercials I’d seen. I could only hope. I did my best to relax through the coming attractions for Havana Nights, a remake of Dirty Dancing, the forthcoming remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Scary Movie 3, a sequel of a sequel that makes fun of other scary movies and their sequels. Yet I didn’t feel calm until the trailer appeared for Freddy vs. Jason, a sequel of two movie sequels: the tenth Friday the 13th, and the seventh Nightmare on Elm Street. I’m no mathematician, but wouldn’t that be a sequel to the fourth power, plus two?

Within minutes of the Johnny English opening credits I realized there’d been no cause for worry: I laughed away serenely at jokes about spy gadgets and narrow escapes and mysterious, beautiful women that were so familiar I might as well have been watching a sequel. And then I realized that the plot, which involved forcing the Queen of England to abdicate so that an evil villain could take her place, was almost identical to the plot of The Great Mouse Detective, a Disney animated feature I’d seen as a child that itself was a spoof of Sherlock Holmes.

Aaaaah, now that’s more like it, I thought, leaning back in my seat and stretching my legs.

But later that evening I found myself wandering through the rooms of my house, strangely unsettled. At first I wasn’t sure quite why, until it hit me: What would happen if the movie companies ran out of old movies and TV shows and comic books from which to make sequels or remakes?

I didn’t want to imagine what we would do when that terrible day arrived, but I couldn’t help worrying all night long. The next morning, while I stood before the mirror and shaved, I mulled over all the movies I’d seen in the last few months. And then it happened.

Pirates of the Caribbean, while a rip-roaring, swashbuckling romp of a movie, was, as I considered the day before, based on a theme-park ride… Then I recalled that the characters of last year’s The Country Bears had originally been animatronic figures at another Disney park… And then there’s those Tomb Raider movies and their video-game ancestors…

In one exhilarating flash I realized that if movies could now be based on theme-park rides or video games or animatronic figures, then they could be based on anything. The sky was the limit! This revelation so excited me that I cut myself, and while dabbing at my chin I immediately came up with a thrilling new movie character, a detective named Nick Relief, based on the styptic pencil, and the movies he could appear in: XTreme 3 and Mach 3 Turbo, based on the popular razors.

Eureka.

A bit dazed by this revelation, and with a tiny square of toilet tissue still stuck to my chin, I decided to fix myself a hearty breakfast. I discovered I was out of eggs, so I hurried to the supermarket and, with one quick scan down the aisles, realized I was about to make Hollywood history.

Sure enough, on the shelves I found the next two superhero teams that could soon carve out their own glorious film franchises: The Uncrustables, based on the Smucker’s frozen Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, and The Job Squad, based on the premium single-ply paper towel. Better watch your backs, X-Men.

In the breakfast-foods section, I came across Kaboom, which could be a movie about, well, anything at all, based on the toasted corn cereal with marshmallow circus shapes. In a neighboring aisle I found the next Vin Diesel vehicle: The Crusher, and its sequels-in-waiting, Easy Crush and Multicrush, based on the aluminum-can compactors. On a nearby shelf I saw displayed a whole series of potential cowboy movies: Old El Paso, based on the popular—and beloved, I might add—refried beans.

But there was more, oh there was more. In the greeting-card section, I found a treasure trove. Already I could imagine the posters in the multiplex lobby, one romantic feature after another: If I Could Work Miracles, Moments We’ve Shared, I Want to be the Blue Skies, each one starring Reese Witherspoon (fresh from the success of the sequel Legally Blonde: Red, White, and Blonde) and featuring that time-honored tinkling piano at moments of great emotion. There were zillions of similar cards lining the shelves: a veritable sequel heaven.

Across the aisle in the makeup display I discovered a seemingly endless array of lighthearted comedies: Toast of New York, Love Her Madly, and Fire & Ice, all taking their lead from Revlon lipsticks. How easy to picture Julia Roberts (who was glorious in the remake of Ocean’s 11) starring in each of these colors.

Then it struck me: Long before Julia could start scraping the bottom of the barrel with Raisin Red, long before Reese’s series would be reduced to titles like You Should Do What Cats Do When They Don’t Feel Well, the two cine-divas could, just like Freddy and Jason, combine forces and appear in a sequel together.

But why stop there? Following that triumph, Reese and Julia could appear in a sequel with Freddy and Jason, in what might very well be the über-sequel of all time, a sequel to the sixth power, plus five. What would it be—a heart-warming horror laff-riot, or a knee-slapping, slice ‘n’ dice romance? Who cares! Just as long as they keep producing sequel after sequel after sequel that will fill every surround-sound theater in every multiplex across the nation, each new movie more satisfying, more comforting, more soothing, more familiar than the last. And when the DVDs are released, we can enjoy them, over and over, over and over.

Now that’s entertainment.
 

Philip Graham is the author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction, his latest being The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches From Lisbon. He is a co-founder of the literary/arts journal Ninth Letter and currently serves as the nonfiction editor. He teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois and the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and he can also play every musical instrument in the world extremely well in his mind. His seres of short essays on the craft of writing can be read at philipgraham.net. More by Philip Graham