Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Kick-Ass Trilogies: Parts 1 to 5

Great movies that make good money are hard to come by. When they do come along, they often spawn sequels which, as a rule, are ill-begotten moneymaking ventures. Occasionally, however, sequels arise that do the originals proud, or even surpass them.

A great sequel that makes good money is even more likely to reap an ill-begotten third instalment, hoping to cash in on quick box office before audiences spot the rule of diminishing returns in action.

When a trilogy comes along that is holistically brilliant, offering not merely three great films but a three-part collection of interconnected cinematic gold, it should be celebrated (particularly before the inevitable reboots / spin-offs / fourth instalments start).

Here is my list of the best, most kick-ass trilogies, Parts 1 to 5. (Parts 6 to 10 coming soon). To see how I scored, refer to the handy, geeky Bar Chart at the bottom of the post. The all-important Ground Rules (why Aliens is still a trilogy, why the "Red Curtain Trilogy" isn't, why I haven't included The World of Apu) can be found after the cut, below the chart.

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy 

Peter Jackson's masterful adaptations of Tolkien's most epic of epic literary allegories were consistently gorgeous, stirring and, most importantly, thrillingly entertaining - for Tolkien fanatics and new fans alike. It helps that they're really one extraordinarily long movie released in three beautifully packaged parts, but each instalment works brilliantly as its own film as well. As a trilogy, it goes from Perfect to Great to Brilliant, scoring an average of 100% (see chart below).

2. The Original Star Wars Trilogy 

The Prequels are obviously a separate, lesser, trilogy. The originals stand unblemished in their endless iconography, unparallelled pop culture influence and lasting appeal. Technically, the lovingly crafted in-camera visual effects are still more vibrant and energetic than the digital haze of the prequels. As a trilogy, it falters only in the tack-on happy ending of the final instalment, which does not quite do justice to all that led up to it, but the complete package still scores a 100% average.

3. The Dark Knight Trilogy 

Batman Begins brilliantly re-legitimised the great brooding superhero for a post-Bourne audience weary of the ludicrous excesses of the-Batman-movie-that-shall-not-be-named. Its sequel, defied all expectations, with Christopher Nolan, Wally Pfister, Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard & Heath Ledger working together at the top of their respective games to create a true modern masterpiece. The third instalment could never live up to the hype of what came before, or quite play out the grand plot strands or philosophical ideals of its ambitious first Act setup, but beautifully dovetailed its plot with Begins, introduced welcome new characters and provided a more than satisfying conclusion to a legendary crime saga and a great character. As a trilogy, it charted Great, Sensational, and Superior to average a respectable 97%.

4. The Godfather Trilogy 

The first two instalments are a showcase of perfect cinematic orchestration on every level. Though it undoubtedly falters on its mediocre, yet welcome, final instalment, it remains a vital and endlessly influential three part saga. As a trilogy, it runs from Legendary to Unbelievably Effective to Somewhat Unfortunate, but the brilliance of Parts I and II keeps the average up at 97%.

5. The Bourne Trilogy

An impossibly classy trilogy that reversed the rule of diminishing returns, redefined a genre and demanded reboots for the longstanding, overbloated Batman and James Bond franchises. Doug Liman's original struck a chord with its tense, understated thrills and commitment to (mostly) real-world action. The Bourne Supremacy is most notable for introducing Paul Greengrass's now definitive saturated shaky cam / super-fast-but-fluid edits style and producing perhaps the most realistic, and relentless, car chase in film. The Bourne Ultimatum sees the individual perfection, and perfect union, of Greengrass's visual style and Tony Gilroy's real-world stakes plotting with insanely tense, innovative set pieces that feel like they could be happening in our world, under our nose. Bourne's past is also resolved in an emotionally satisfying, if unsettling, conclusion. The Bourne Legacy, and anything to follow, is clearly a spin off and the Original Bourne Trilogy stands alone as a perfect trilogy that went from Good, to Better to Brilliant, averaging a tidy 90%.

A few ground rules:

  • I have not seen Satyajit Ray's World of Apu trilogy. I know, I know. But I haven't. So I can't include it. 
  • I have also not seen the Night / Dawn / Day of the Dead trilogy. Yes, I know. I will.
  • The Original Star Wars & the Star Wars prequels are two separate, and vastly different, trilogies.
  • The Bourne Trilogy counts because The Bourne Legacy is clearly a spinoff.
  • Indiana Jones no longer counts, thanks to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
  • There is no Baz Luhrmann "Red Curtain" trilogy. That's just his style, consistent in five films now.
  • There certainly isn't a Sofia Coppola "phases of womanhood" trilogy. Her first three films just happen to have female protagonist with no logical narrative continuity - a literary adaptation, an original screenplay written around Bill Murray and an historical biography do not a trilogy make.
  • The Matrix sequels seriously sucked - hurt, even - and time has not changed that. 

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