Fantastic Cows and How to Milk Them

| May 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

Early into 2016, I jotted down possibly my longest list of “must-watch movies” for an approaching year. And as I was ticking off the last of them, from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I became aware of a pattern that I can’t say surprised me as much as I wish it had: practically every film on my list was either a sequel or an adaptation of some existing property I was already a fan of.

And as unfortunate as the lack of original screenplays in there was, for the most part, I wasn’t complaining.

I’ll be the first to say that I love sequels – as long as they feel either deserved or, at the least, planned. If Kevin Feige muttered the names of the next six untitled Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in his sleep tomorrow night, I’d have my six tickets booked before he was awake. What’s that? Luke Skywalker is planning an attack on the Death Star 7S, just a year after he, Rey, and Finn took out the Death Star 7? Sign me up! Oh, and did you hear they’re finally doing Wreck-It Ralph 2? The Incredibles 2? Maybe this time the Incredibles will meet Hiro and the gang from Big Hero 6, which was a wonderful movie in its own right and didn’t even need a Big Hero 1-5! I love sequels!

But I also love endings. With franchises like Star Wars, the MCU, or LEGO’s new lineup of hilarious-while-surprisingly-poignant movies, I know there’s potential for me to be entertained indefinitely. There will be hits and misses, but at their core these stories are sagas: stories of not one generation but of many, of legacies passed on and of loves and legends rediscovered throughout the ages. But then there are stories that are more intimate and were always supposed to be – stories with endings.

I love these stories – stories that take you by the hand and lead you down magic pathways you’d never dreamed of, that send you twisting and turning through dark forests and towering fortresses. These are stories that gently walk you into still waters and then push you in – sending you hurtling and tumbling through chaos, through emotions both pure and dark that challenge you to ask yourself questions about your own character. And finally, these are stories that, by the end of the first page of the last chapter, have asked you to leave them, before they leave you too, empty, hollow, and lonely but transformed.

Harry Potter was such a series for me – and the one that really got me into writing (for which I will forever be in JK Rowling’s debt). Yes, I’m aware it was seven entire books. But Harry Potter was also always planned to be exactly so: seven books. And while I’ve never quite wanted to leave Rowling’s wizarding world ever since that fateful night I finished Deathly Hallows – 22nd July, 2017 – I was less than impressed to hear about her plans to release a follow-up play. Harry’s story had already ended for me as had a long chapter in my childhood, and that was okay.

And now we have Harry Potter and the Middle-Aged Parenting Woes.

Also, all of a sudden you have Time Turners again and you DON'T go back to save Fred? Shame on you, Potter. photo credit: PJ Nelson Time Turner ~ Anaglyph 3D via photopin (license)

Also, all of a sudden you have Time Turners again and you DON’T go back to save my favorite character? Shame on you, Potter.
photo credit: PJ Nelson Time Turner ~ Anaglyph 3D via photopin (license)

…Which, again, there is nothing wrong with enjoying. But The Cursed Child is an asterisk, an afterthought to a saga well-told and brought full-circle meant not to build on new conflict or themes, but to recapture the magic from nine years prior purely through fanservice, spectacle, and nostalgia.

On the other side of the galleon, the Fantastic Beasts film sounded like a different, fresh way to revisit the series: through the eyes of a different protagonist in a drastically different place and time. And for the most part, it surprised me. For all its flaws, it told a coherent story with great direction, excellent visuals, and likable characters. It left just enough vague hints and plants for me to want to see maybe another installment, or two tops. But again, when news broke out that JK Rowling and Warner Bros have plans to expand it into not just a trilogy, but five whole movies, my stomach did a faster somersault than Neville Longbottom on ice skates. I couldn’t see it happening; not without hours of unnecessary padding.

However much I love sequels, I also can’t be blind to the fact that Hollywood, videogame companies, and even authors nowadays are ready to exploit fan dedication and loyalty. I like to believe that’s not the case here, that JK Rowling actually has a five-movie saga she cares about, that there’s a stronger purpose behind Toy Story 4 than just merchandise sales, that Pirates of the Caribbean will grow out of its ironic “Dead Franchise Walking” phase. But everyone is ready to sell out nowadays – every popular franchise on the verge of becoming a cash cow, and we’re part of the problem. We’re the media’s scumbag friend, ready to enable them at a moment’s notice and readier still to pretend like Sequelholics Anonymous isn’t a thing.

photo credit: kenleewrites Toy Story 3 via photopin (license)

I don’t care if it’s four movies now, it’ll always be my favorite trilogy of all time!
photo credit: kenleewrites Toy Story 3 via photopin (license)

There are some incredible stories out there that need to be told – and many of them are certainly sequels. To suggest boycotting unnecessary sequels seems ludicrous, especially since you could actually be sitting out on some potentially great material. The Assassin’s Creed series dishing out one title per year may have seemed excessive on paper, but they kept swinging and hit some pretty great home runs. And in all honesty, one man’s Shrek 4ever After could very well be his daughter’s Beauty and the Beast. As the times change and we grow old and bitter, we have to remember not every sequel will be for everyone; there are certainly many I want that others won’t necessarily agree with, and vice-versa. But even then, there is a need to hold artists and companies to a different standard after they have released a work: as much as I love Marvel, I can’t keep congratulating them unless they improve their villains or stop recycling their same basic story structures (which the Captain America trilogy proved to me they can very much do).

These companies all own some fantastic cows, and while we may be prepared to dish out money for their fantastic milk, we need to also be wary; we need to be ready to save the franchises from the very hands that feed them, and, consequently, maybe save the hands themselves too. As writers and readers both, we need to be critical. We need to demand boundaries to be pushed and organic, logical changes to be made. And lastly, we need to be ready to stop and let go, to accept endings and move on.

But until then, while the fantastic milkmen keep coming, it’s our job to be the most fantastic refrigerators we can be – and keep our dumb blockbusters and our silly cartoons and our ridiculous YA novels fresh and cool.

Featured photo credit: Gage Skidmore David Yates via photopin (license)

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Category: Art and Literature, Available Categories, featured, Poetry, Prose and Comedy, TV and Movies

Aaraf Afzal

About the Author ()

Aaraf Afzal is many things, but he's not particularly good at being any of them. He continues to work towards this goal, among others, studying Film & TV and Economics at Boston University. An avid subscriber to the belief that all forms of media have their own sense of artistic beauty, he is particularly invested in writing fiction and recently released his first novel "Re: Revolution" in Bangladesh. Alongside his pursuits at Culture Shock, he's currently at work writing an online series called "The Chosen Zeroes." Fandoms and inspirations include Neil Gaiman, Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet and Clank, Marvel Comics, and Culture Shock. Giggity.

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