Anatomy of a Trilogy

People tend to think about movies in differing ways, audiences and critics alike. Some feel that less is more and masterpieces should be left to stand alone- the Inception school of thought. Others believe that the themes and characters developed in a movie are so deep and engaging, that a single film cannot do them justice. However regardless of your viewpoint, the fact remains that “The Movie Trilogy” as entertainment forms a substantial part of our culture and inspires great debate over the “should they or shouldn’t they” question of extending the franchise.

They shouldn't.

Like many conventions in film and entertainment, trilogies tend to follow a predetermined pattern and as each production company tries to imitate the norm and establish their franchise as credible, they seem only to reinforce old stereotypes.

Some of the great trilogies that we know, from a variety of genres and contexts seem connected in this way. To illustrate let’s consider three of the biggest trilogies in the last 20 years: Star Wars* , The Martix and Lord of the Rings.
*N.B. the original Star Wars trilogy – before this guy.

Phase One – a prophesy fulfilled

When Luke Skywalker woke up that morning, little did he know that Gandalf the Wizard would come to visit and divulge to him that the world is not as it seems, and that he was the chosen one – a hero to lead mankind against the tyranny of machines.

The above should flow seamlessly in your pop-culture infused mind – this is because the introductory story for each is so similar. An unknowing simpleton, the preacher who announces the truth, a journey of self discovery, maturity and finally the responsibility – the hero is fully ready to lead their people and fulfil their destiny. Many an audience member would be content with the story to end here. To these people, Hollywood says “Fuck You”.

Stallone - keeping geriatrics relevant since 1976

Phase Two – the horrors unleashed

This is where the franchise gets dark. Gone is the comic relief, the childish feelings of discovery and new beginnings. This is where the hero realises that the task ahead is not all about bending spoons and choosing the right colour pill (hey Frodo – take the suicide coloured one).

Often this instalment will feature great sadness and loss – the magic, positivity and optimism is gone, replaced with fear, mysery, depression and a sense of impending doom. Many of you will know this vibe as “2am – the night before my essay is due”. The director here seems to be trying to make a statement that he’s serious about his talents and vision for the franchise. That statement, largely, leans towards “we’re not gay!” I mean, if your movie features the term “fellowship”, audiences are going to have their doubts.

One ring to bind them...

Phase Three – the balance restored

You should get where this is going – enemies vanquished, the people united, friendships restored etc. Generally the world returns to a previous level of prosperity and happiness that was the norm in the old days. Because apparently the values were better in the old days.

Often the hero will retreat to their cave/den/sand hut for the rest of their lives , free from adventure and excitement, and live happily and comfortably until their invariably sad but timely death from peaceful old age. Conflicts are pushed aside, issues have been resolved everyone is happy. But what about the Orcs, Frodo? WHAT ABOUT THEM??

So, whether the trilogy is simply an extension of the classic narrative (introduction, complications, resolution), or it’s movie studios realising they are on to a good thing and cranking out another two box office hits – we will continue asking the same question – should they make another? Next time they do, perhaps you will see some of these structures that seem to run throughout three-piece entertainment, irrespective of genre.

Stay tuned for the upcoming sequel to this blog – “A dark day for trilogies”…

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One response to “Anatomy of a Trilogy

  1. The Darkness in the second Indiana Jones nearly ruined the trilogy (what’s Crystal Skull?) for me.
    It’s supposedly George Lucas’ fault – he wanted to replicate the Darkness in the Empire Strikes Back and Spielberg stepped back and because he considered himself more of a director-for-hire.
    Thank God Spielberg didn’t do that for The Last Crusade, Ewoks and the Knights Templar would’ve been even more ridiculous than Ewoks bringing down the Empire.

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