Second Takes: Critical Approaches to the Film Sequel, Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Constantine Verevis (eds.)

Second Takes: Critical Approaches to the Film Sequel (Cover)

Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2010
ISBN: 978 1 4384 3030 0
US$ 29.95 (pb)
264 pp.
(Review copy supplied by SUNY Press)

Second Takes examines a proliferating cinematic mode of production that increasingly informs film release schedules: the sequel. As Michael Cieply states in a 2007 New York Times article, “In the last five years, only about 20 percent of the films with more than $200 million in domestic ticket sales were purely original in concept, rather than a sequel or an adaptation of some pre-existing material.” [1] Although critics have largely dismissed the sequel (and the remake) “as a textual leech, a formulaic financial format, and the assassin of ‘originality’” (p. 4), blockbusters such as the sequels of the Die Hard, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, Spider-Man, X-Men, or Batman franchises constitute but a short list of successful sequelizations that were released in the recent past and have decisively shaped the contemporary media climate.

And yet, despite their strong cinematic presence, film sequels have received only limited scholarly attention so far. [2] Published as part of the SUNY series “Horizons of Cinema,” Second Takes is the first essay collection exploring the trend of sequelization and multi-film franchises in contemporary cinema and an excellent and valuable addition to the slowly growing field of academic research on sequels, series, and remakes. Both editors, Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Constantine Verevis, have already published well-acclaimed books on the remake and the sequel [3] , and their new essay collection, Second Takes, proposes innovative critical approaches to the film sequel that challenge previous notions of “‘better-ness’ and retrospectivity,” “of the film sequel as a ‘part two’ or continuation of a previous ‘original’” (p. 3)―as is the case with third film installments such as Ocean’s Thirteen (Steven Soderbergh, 2007). Instead, the collection focuses on “the sequel’s industrial, aesthetic, cultural, political, and theoretical contexts” (p. 4). And, as the editors state in their introduction,

[a]s one of the few books on sequelization, this collection discusses the sequel’s investments in repetition, difference, continuation, and retroactivity, and particularly those attitudes and approaches toward the sequel that see it as a kind of figurehead of Hollywood’s imperatives. (p. 4)

This broad scope announced in the introduction of Second Takes is reflected in the variety of issues that the twelve original contributions of the book explore. They focus on a wide and fascinating array of approaches and subject matter. The chapters are organised around individual case studies, ranging from the Godfather trilogy to Bridget Jones, rather than invoking some unifying thematic or theoretical arrangement. This film-centered approach not only stresses the plurality of film production and analysis but also prevents fruitless generalizations and theoretical abstractions. The individual chapters still form a coherent whole by expanding on previously outlined categories and textual relations as well as by combining different approaches to, and complementing perspectives on, the film sequel.

Constantine Verevis, for example, analyzes George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy―Night of the Living Dead (USA 1968), Dawn of the Dead (Italy/USAS 1978), Day of the Dead (USA 1985)―and its recent off-shoots within the critical frameworks of the political and authorial modes of sequelization. Verevis overcomes the historical prioritization of an “original” text in order to argue for a process of serialization that advances the trilogy’s political allegory and narrative from one installment to the next. In the following chapter, Jennifer Forrest also redefines the sequel by introducing the notions of the “false” sequel―“a film that may lead to a series”―and the “true” sequel―“a film that functions as a companion piece … to its predecessor” (p. 33) in order to examine Classic Hollywood industry practices. Thomas Leitch, R. Barton Palmer, and Paul Sutton, in contrast, return to the concept of the “original” in their highly interesting theoretically-inflected discussions of “sequel-ready” fiction as a new form of textual transposition, of the sequel “as an exemplary category of hypertextuality” (p. 75), and of the prequel, respectively.

In her chapter, Claire Perkins, focuses on a very different aspect of American filmmaking: She understands the “smart” films of the early 2000s―such as The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001), Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003), and The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005)―as a sequel to the “New Hollywood” of the late 1960s and early 1970s. By arguing that the contemporary American “smart” cinema continues and transforms―i.e. sequelizes―stylistic and thematic characteristics of the earlier films, Perkins “considers cultural difference in terms of the processes of exchange and dialogue established between two historical periods and their attendant cultural resonances” (p. 8). In a similar vein, Simon McEnteggart’s chapter “Sequelizing the Superhero: Postmillennial Anxiety and Cultural ‘Need’” demonstrates how superhero sequels resonate with cultural and political anxieties of their respective historical periods of production.

Daniel Herbert’s illuminating contribution introduces yet another critical approach to the sequel. He investigates the Hollywood trend of remaking and sequelizing Asian films as cross-cultural exchange (or circulation) within global cultural industries. More precisely, Herbert creates the geographic, economic, and cultural metaphor of The Ring Intertext as Pacific Rim in order to show how the economic, semiotic, and cultural interactions, connections and tensions between the Japanese Ringu (Hideo Nakata, 1998), the South Korean Ring Virus (Dong-bin Kim, 1999), and the 2002 Hollywood remake The Ring (Gore Verbinsky) inform narrative and aesthetic strategies, the construction of cultural identities, the engagement with communication technologies in, as well as the production contexts of, these films.

The sequel’s commercial dimension and franchising are discussed in Joyce Goggin’s chapter on Ocean’s Eleven (Lewis Milestone, 1960) and Steven Soderbergh’s recent remake and sequels, and in Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s chapter on The Pirates of the Caribbean (Gore Verbinski, 2003, 2005, 2007). Jess-Cooke calls the relation between consumers and the film franchise “sequelized spectatorship”―by which she means “a set of personalized spectatorial experiences and encounters in which repetition, reenactment, and collective memory-making are organizing principles” (p. 208)―and examines it in the context of three key conceptual areas: immersion, control, and merchandizing.

Nicholas Rombes and Ina Rae Hark are also interested in questions of production, consumption, interaction, and control. Rombes explores the influence of emerging digital media and the digital archive on sequels and the conceptualizations of temporality and originality, while Hark, drawing on fan discourse surrounding the 2002 Firefly television series and the 2005 feature film Serenity (both Joss Whedon), sheds light on the dynamics of resurrection inherent in the concept of the sequel.

All chapters are highly informative, well-written, and recommended contributions to the research on sequels, series, and remakes. Yet it is striking that the terms sequel, series, remake as well as serialization and sequelization are often used interchangeably, defined and redefined in each chapter of the collection. But it is precisely this multiplicity of approaches and definitions that best reflects and captures the current state of research in this emerging field of study, and which can be considered as a first important step on the long road towards a comprehensive and consistent theory of the film sequel. Overall, the broad scope of the individual chapters in Second Takes provides a remarkably rich, diverse, and insightful understanding of the sequel, an excellent overview over the current scholarship, and a glimpse of future critical and theoretical avenues academics can open up to further investigate this field of study.

[1] Cited in Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Constantine Verevis (eds.), Second Takes: Critical Approaches to the Film Sequel. Albany, NY: SUNY P, 2010. 2.
[2] See Paul Budra, and Betty A. Schellenberg (eds.), Part Two: Reflections on the Sequel. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1998; Bernard A. Drew, Motion Picture Series and Sequels: A Reference Guide. New York: Garland, 1990; Robert A. Nowlan, and Gwendolyn Wright Nowlan, Cinema Sequels and Remakes, 1903-1987. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1989.
[3] See Constantine Verevis, Film Remakes. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2006; Carolyn Jess-Cooke, Film Sequels: Theory and Practice from Hollywood to Bollywood. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2008.

About the Author

Kathleen Loock

About the Authors

Kathleen Loock

Kathleen Loock is a post-doc research associate in the Research Unit Popular Seriality: Aesthetics and Practice, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). She is working on a project on film remakes, sequels and prequels at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies (Freie Universität Berlin, Germany).View all posts by Kathleen Loock →