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Top 5 Best & Worst Movie Prequels - Page 2

These are the five best and worst movie prequels, as I see it, but before I begin, some ground rules: (1) Either the movie or its predecessor(s) have to have been a full-blown theatrical release (alas, that disqualifies Transmorphers: Fall of Man); (2) The prequel has to have been out at least long enough to hit the home video market (so no Prometheus); (3) Reboots don't count, because a key aspect of prequels is maintaining continuity; (4) I have to have seen both the prequel and the original(s) (which is why The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly isn't on this list, even though a lot of people will denounce its absence); and (5) The Godfather, Part II doesn't count, because it's only about 30% prequel.


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THE BEST
3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

One good way to make a prequel is to not approach it as a prequel at all. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom does, in fact, take place before the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it never refers to it or winks at the audience. All the movie does is take the whip-cracking adventurer from the first film and put him in a completely new and separate adventure. Though few people, if anyone, consider it the best movie in the franchise, it's a perfectly fun adventure that helps give life to one the best heroes in all of cinema.


THE WORST
2. Hannibal Rising
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After Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, there weren't any good places to go with the Hannibal Lecter franchise. Thomas Harris wrote two more novels with his cannibalistic serial killer psychiatrist: the chronologically last Hannibal, a book with an infuriatingly bad ending that was adapted by Ridley Scott into a forgettable gore-fest, and the chronologically first Hannibal Rising, which attempts to explain Lecter's entire backstory. Neither the movie nor the book for Hannibal Rising are terrible on their own merits, but when coupled with the rest of the series, the story is unnecessary and inevitably disappointing. Lecter is a fascinating villain because he is so inhuman, so any attempt to humanize him and explain what makes him tick is destined to lessen his impact. It's sad that such a character--so strong in Silence of the Lambs that he has become a permanent resident of our collective unconscious--has been so over-explored. Needless to say, I'm not looking forward to his new TV show.


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THE BEST
2. Red Dragon

Red Dragon, on the other hand, is an interesting case. The book was released before Silence of the Lambs and was originally adapted into a fairly forgettable Michael Mann flick called Manhunter. However, the second adaptation, Red Dragon, still qualifies as a prequel because the filmmakers deliberately treated it as such. They recast Anthony Hopkins to play his iconic villain, they added scenes that directly reference the events of Silence of the Lambs, and they fleshed out the story so that it helps set up the sequel, which came out many years earlier. Red Dragon is a good blueprint for how to make a prequel, because it succeeds in honoring the franchise and maintaining a cohesive continuity while simultaneously telling a different story that can easily stand alone. It informs The Silence of the Lambs, but doesn't steal from it or recontextualize it with unnecessarily clever plot twists. It's not a better movie than Silence of the Lambs, but it is a great complement.


THE WORST
1. Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace
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So yeah, getting back to Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace is pretty hard to defend. One badass lightsaber duel and a cool podracing sequence cannot save what is a horribly overwrought story. George Lucas couldn't help himself. He had to try to tie together every single plot thread from his original trilogy and overexplain what wound up being a poorly-conceived religious parable. He pioneered the modern prequel, because he walked across that minefield and showed us where nearly all of the explosives are by stepping on them with enthusiasm. Aside from needlessly complicating things by making C-3PO Anakin's creation or insisting on giving us midi-chlorians, Lucas also made some pretty basic mistakes by overdoing all-new characters, especially Jar Jar Binks, and casting Jake Lloyd instead of Haley Joel Osment to play opposite Liam Neeson. The movie is poorly paced, the plot is trying too hard to be clever, the dialogue is somehow even more wooden and stilted than the dialogue in the original trilogy, and the tone is way too light to justify the dark story we all know must follow it. I am capable of watching and even enjoying The Phantom Menace, but I can freely admit that it is a deeply flawed piece of work.


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THE BEST
1. X-Men: First Class

I swear it wasn't by design that three different franchises straddle both sides of this list. The fact of the matter is that there are only a handful of film properties that have been around long enough to get the prequel treatment, and of those, many of them try it more than once. The X-Men franchise was too valuable to let go, so after Wolverine failed to impress, the producers were in the same boat they were in before. They thus chose to do another prequel, determined to make it work. Instead of focusing on the most obvious backstory, though, they decided to spend some time with the two masterminds of the series, Professor X and Magneto. By telling the story of their complicated relationship, X-Men: First Class keeps itself grounded in an emotionally satisfying story that doesn't have to rely on popular secondary characters or convoluted plot twists. First Class, like the other successful prequels on this list, manages to walk the minefield with care, delivering a final product that complements but doesn't ruin its sequels, entertains with its own story without spending the entire movie reminding the audience of other films, and it keeps its focus on the characters without changing anything. I know the line between reboot and prequel is a little blurry, but I prefer to think of First Class as a prequel, because the continuity of X-Men and X-2 doesn't need to be rewritten.


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-e. magill 7/3/2012










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