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Jumping the Shark with Bad Trilogies

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Jumping the Shark with Bad Trilogies

So I owe you all an apology for scraping the barrel last week.  After I wrote that first Burning Man entry ( and it proved such a hit, far and away the most successful post I've had (in no small thanks due to Dr. Sean's tireless promotion), garnering over a 1,000 hits on that one post alone, I went back to the well, wondering how I could manage to top such a critical boon, mined some genius, and came up with Burning Man Pt. II (, which while not quite on par with the original, in terms of readership, may be the superior post, at least in terms of its writing.  Sure, it has the turtle kid and the porta-potty flowchart, which is almost like cheating, they're so good, but Pt. II manages to improve upon the original, taking the story and characters in a new, exciting direction, and since it was a one-note joke to begin with (dirty, stinking hippies), I promise you, it was work.  Either way, whether you are a fan of the original or the sequel, let's just agree to agree: both are awesome. Problem is, I set the bar so fucking high, I was like Nigel, already on 11: couldn't go any higher.

But I'd set out to write a goddamn trilogy, so I had to write a part 3, and the conclusion was a huge letdown.  I knew it when I was writing it.  I didn't even write much of the damn thing myself, resorting to the ol' gimmicky "reader's letters" (which were actually the best written part of the post).  There are only so many variations on the words "dirty," "stinking" and "hippy," y'know?  I should have just stopped after 1 & 2, but I had a successful franchise left to milk, so like Joe McCarthy or Chubby Checker's seventeen follow-ups to "The Twist," one-note bands whose appetites for the big time had been whetted, desperate to have a hit again, I abused my own world (More on Revenge of the Jedi and Lucas's further tinkering later).

Pt. III was a critical and commercial flop (though we did quite well overseas in Micronesia).  It was pointed out by many, including Esther Martinez, that I had...jumped the shark.  Which is itself a tired phrase.  Except...

When was the last time you watched that Happy Days' episode?  Until Esther and Co. brought it up, I of course knew of the expression like everyone else.  You stick around too long, take a good idea and milk it to shit, etc.  But I really had erased the clip from my memory.  And with good cause.  It's fucking terrible.  Here it is, just so we are all on the same page:

I was a big Happy Days's fan growing up.  One of my more vivid recollections is talking to Ron Lamontagne after Religion Class about Ron Howard's guest spot return, having left the show years earlier (Ron and I were both very excited.  We lived in a small, shit farm town and, obviously, there wasn't much to be all that excited about). Seeing as how the infamous "Jump the Shark" episode signaled such a low point, I figured it had to have happened, like, in the last season, long after Richie was gone and Cousin Roger had moved in (I always wondered why they didn't just bring Chuck back), just as they were gearing up for the debacle that is Joanie Loves Chachi.  But as you can see in the above clip, Richie was still very much a part of the show, so this fucking thing went on for years after jumping the shark.  Actually, this episode (according to Wikipedia, 'cause I ain't doing any more research than that.  Which reminds me of a conversation I had recently with local writer Sean Craven [] outside a Peet's about writing historical non-fiction.  "I'd love to write historical non-fiction," Sean said.  "I just need an assistant.  'Cause there ain't no way I'm doing all that fucking research") was the season premier.  Of Season Five.  In 1977.  The show ran until 1984.  I guess when you look at it like that, my artistic transgression with Pt. III wasn't that bad.

Anyway, it got me thinking of the worst Part IIIs of all time.  Again, without doing research, here's what comes to mind.

Matrix Revolutions 

Part II of the Matrix trilogy is god-awful.  Part III is so bad, that it makes you think back to Part II and go, "Maybe Part II wasn't so bad after all."  I read somewhere that the only lasting cultural contribution of the two Matrix followups is that it officially got George Lucas off the hook for missing the easiest sure-fire, slam dunk in cinematic history (the Star Wars' prequels).  Matrix II is fucking dreadful, painfully awkward and clumsy, poorly paced (except for the freeway chase), and the Zen-tinged dialogue that was forgivable in the the original because the rest of it is so compelling is not so forgivable this time around.  The Waskowskis get lazy with the same "twist" at the end, this time with Trinity instead of Neo on the receiving end of the kiss-bringing-back-to-life Deus ex Machina moment, which serves to cheapen both sequel and original. Yet for as bad as Part II is--and, yes, Part II sucks, something awful--Part III manages to somehow lower the bar and suck worse.  I sure as shit am not going back to watch this movie to give a more detailed lists of the reasons why. Like Inception (, I've already wasted all the time I will on it.  Best I can recall, they aren't even in the goddamn matrix for most of the movie, but underground and riding mechanical elephants or something, and Jada Pinkett talks way too much, and Keanu has his eyes burned out or something by one of the Lord of the Rings elves, and, really, who gives a shit? This clip pretty much sums the whole mess up.

Rocky III

This kills me to include.  For years, it was my favorite movie.  Of course, I was 12. When you watch this homoerotically tinged sequel, only two degrees removed from what I consider one of the finest American films ever made, as an adult, its flaws are glaring and painfully embarrassing to watch.

This is the exact point in the Rocky franchise where Stallone embraces (pun intended) the cartoonish over the gritty and real.  Cartoonish can work in Sin City. Rocky?  Not so much.  (It would be almost 20 more years before Sly achieves redemption with the underrated, solid Rocky Balboa, giving a fitting farewell to a beloved American icon.)

Spider-Man III

You ever want to know how fucking important writing is, look no further than this celluloid fuckbomb (which might rival that Wakowski indictment of sure-thing, fuck ups).  Part I was written by Stan Lee.  Part II, Michael Fucking Chabon.  Part III? Sam Rami and his brother, Ivan, the very definition of "precipitous drop-off," rendering one of the best superhero universes in dire need of a reboot in just over two hours.  The best criticism of this movie--I wish I could remember where I read it--went something like, "In the jazz scene in Part III, Tobey Maquire (as evil Peter Parker) looks like a 3rd-place contestant in a Hitler look alike contest."  Ouch.

Let me know which ones I missed.  Y'know, in case I ever need to fill space with some reader letters...

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At September 5, 2011 at 9:01 AM , Blogger DSobczak said...

What about the whole Star Trek movie franchise. With the exception of The Wrath of Khan, none of the others really stand out as cinematic gold. Although, I do find the one where they have to go back to get the whales a bit under rated, the rest of them are pretty forgettable.

At September 5, 2011 at 9:15 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Yeah, Duane, I was thinking more of movies that started terrific out of the gate. The first Star Trek was pretty lame (then again, so too the second Rocky). Really, you could include Return of the Jedi, but since the prequels suck so bad (with only Sith marginally acceptable), you forget just how bad it is.


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