Tag Archives: Toy Story

The Consistency of Continuity

The way reality (and by proxy, stories) works is that if one thing happens then something else does. Because of this, we have a natural sequence of events that happens. It’s a consistent sequence of events that have bearing on each other.

Man, describing continuity is difficult.

Basically, if something happened, it happened. Events that happen influence the next one. Yet how much this affects the story depends on, well, the story.

Let’s take The Avengers, because I love that movie and it has an example. Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Thor all lead up to the movie. Events in The Avengers reference what happened in ‘prior’ movies and hew to characterization established thus far. Thor’s worried about Jane Foster and Tony Stark doesn’t really trust Natascha Romanov all that much. Loki’s also got some issues to work out with kingship, sonship, and all that.

Thing is, it’s not so interwoven that you absolutely have to see all five movies to be able to ‘get’ The Avengers. It stands alone just as well as it stands as a part. Each character is still introduced and established. Watching the other movies adds to the experience, but you don’t have to. The continuity’s there, but it’s not restrictive.

Examples of this loose sort of continuity (events don’t contradict each other, but you don’t need to be a guru on the work to know what’s going on) abound. During Firefly’s brief tenure it would introduce a character or place and bring it back later. Saffron was introduced, then we meet her later as Bridgett (and then Yolanda [or Yo-Saff-Bridge for short]). Malcolm Reynolds instantly recognizes her again, of course. That’s continuity!

Or the Uncharted games. Each successive one builds on what’s been established earlier, but, again, one doesn’t have to play all of them to get the plot. Nathan, Sully, and Elena are introduced each time as is their standing with each other. They have a history (some of which we know about) that influences their actions. Playing the other games adds, certainly, but it’s not necessary. The plot doesn’t contradict itself but it’s still accessible no matter where you start.

Then you’ve got the opposite end of the spectrum. Lost’s continuity is so deeply, heavily interwoven that missing an episode leaves you trying to figure out what you missed. This isn’t necessarily bad, just not the most viewer friendly way to do things. Just about every event in Lost has connection and meaning that will pay off later. A seemingly-trivial event that happened once actually has deep repercussions, something that wouldn’t work as well were it not so tight.

So if you don’t watch Lost since the first episode you’ll be lost. Crap. We get that, so what else? The story seldom, if ever, contradicts itself. Events impact the next. Even when time travel gets introduced it’s done in such a way that doesn’t create gaping loopholes. Though time doesn’t always flow linearly in Lost, it doesn’t go back on itself. Storyline contradictions break the suspension of disbelief, leaving the audience thinking “wait, what?” instead of focusing on the plot. Lost does no such thing.

Continuity, no matter the amount, is always important. In a sequel we want to see what happens next to the characters and events given to us in the original. Pulling a Revenge of the Fallen and deciding to undo a lot of what happened in the first leaves a very sour taste in the audience’s mouth. The Dark Knight brought Batman Begins to its logical next step without blocking out a new audience. Toy Story 3 acknowledged all prior events but told an independent story (that didn’t tread on the feet of the first two). Don’t undo what’s been done.

Going all out works in some cases, in others it’s best to keep it light.

Just don’t end up like Metal Gear Solid and reveal in the fourth game that half the exposition thus far has been lie after lie after lie. Sure, it works as a twist, but it’s kinda confusing. Tell a story, and tell it consistently.

Also: buy my book In Transit! It’s got continuity in it, at least as much as you can have in a short story collection!

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What Makes A Good Sequel

Sometimes, it feels like everything’s a sequel. Last year we got no less than twenty-eight sequels. In one year. Heck, all but one of 2011‘s top ten blockbusters (that one is Smurfs, but we won’t talk about that) were sequels. Well, this veritable deluge of sequels wouldn’t be that bad if it weren’t for the fact that so many sequels flat out suck.

The mentality behind so many sequels seems to be something like “hey, that worked so well the first time! Let’s do it again! Except more!” What people loved about Curse of the Black Pearl was Jack’s hijinks and Will and Elizabeth’s romance. So let’s put more of that in it and ratchet everything else up. More Matrix means more crazy action and philosophy. More Transporter means making all the action just… ridiculous. Yet it doesn’t work. It should though, right? That’s what a sequel is: what made the first one great, just taken up to eleven.

Well, not quite

A sequel cannot be the same movie as its predecessor. We’ve already seen that movie. The original Alien was an intensely suspenseful sci-fi horror movie. The horror thing wouldn’t work twice: after watching Alien we knew what the titular creature looks like. If James Cameron had tried to simply do the first one again in a different setting, it’d be the same as before except with less of a mystery as to the nature of the monster. Instead, he took the universe created by the original and told a completely different story. Aliens was more about action with some moments of sheer terror and suspense. We were still watching our protagonists try and survive against extraterrestrial monsters, but this time they were fighting back with the considerable firepower they had. It was the same but different. And it was good.

Predators wisely took a similar route in being a twenty-three year later sequel. They didn’t waste time maintaining the intense suspense that made the first so good because what the Predator looks like is practically common knowledge. So the new film was more of an action orientated suspense flick, filled with shout outs and nods to the original.

Another great examples is The Dark Knight which toned down the mystery and adventure of Batman Begins in favor of showing what would happen to Batman after being the Bat for several months. It’s a gritty crime thriller now, since that’s what Batman’s world has become.

On that note, a sequel should be the next logical step. The heroes beat the villain, now what? Dark Knight explored the ripples of having a vigilante watching the streets. Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 followed Woody and friends’ next adventure and, ultimately, ‘their kid’ getting too old for them. It was a progression of the story that it started with and it made sense. The adventures were escalated, but not without good reason: the stories’ progression necessitated it, not the other way round.

The Lord Of The Rings was written as one story in three (well, technically six) parts and adapted to film in the same format. As such, The Two Towers and The Return of the King are two of the best sequels made. The story was meant to be in three parts and, when done as well as this, it worked. We’re not talking sequel hooks or little plugs, we’re talking proper planned trilogies.

Sometimes the progression requires a shift in focus. The Empire Strikes Back kept the feeling of high adventure from the original Star Wars but focused it more on character drama and development. It was still a Star Wars movie in universe, shape, and feel, but rather than trying to make a bigger and better adventure than destroying the Death Star we were treated to a movie about what our heroes did after. Ultimately, Return of the Jedi blended both: the plot climax of defeating the Empire and Luke’s personal climax of facing Darth Vader. Jedi took the threads of both prior movies and wove them together into a satisfying conclusion.

During an interview Joss Whedon was asked how he’d try to top the original in a sequel to The Avengers (did you really think I wouldn’t mention either?). His reply: “By not trying to. By being smaller. More personal, more painful… By being the next thing that should happen to these characters, and not just a rehash of what seemed to work the first time.” That’s what a sequel should be. It doesn’t matter if it’s bigger or smaller: it has to be the next step. The progression, a continuation. A proper sequel.

Alternately, we could try and come up with something completely original. But hah.

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