Thursday, 16 August 2012

Feature: Best Movie Trilogies

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy

Watching the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises (see my review here) got me thinking; could this be the greatest movie trilogy ever? How many other trilogy's can attest to being as consistently brilliant as The Dark Knight Trilogy? 

There are very few stories that have consistently delivered in quality across a three-film trilogy; by the third instalment, it can often be that a franchise has run out of steam, ideas or originality. Take the original Spider-man series for example; Sam Raimi's Spidey trilogy (2002, 2004 and 2007) was great to begin with, better again in Spider-man 2 but fatally flawed in third instalment.

As it turns out, this pattern of a 'tricky threequel' is not unique to Spidey. X-Men: The Last Stand is generally seen as the weakest in the trilogy, whilst Austin Powers was feeling mighty tired by the time Goldmember rolled around. This makes it especially hard to find many truly great trilogies around, especially if the first two films were especially good. Another reason for there being so few is the increasing trend for (often) unnecessary 'fourquels'. In recent years, Indiana Jones, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, Terminator and Mission: Impossible have all been added too with a fourth instalment (with varying success).

So then, what would make a trilogy stand-out as being one of the best? For me, the most important thing is consistency of quality and storytelling. A trilogy such as the Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) certainty ranks up there with the best because of this; each instalment fits into a wider story arc that completes a beginning (Fellowship), a middle (Two Towers) and an end (Return of the King).

So, after some degree of consideration, here's a bunch of five trilogies that stand out for me.

1) The Original Star Wars Trilogy (A New Hope/The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi)

R2-D2 and C-3PO in
 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
How could it not be one of the best? Whilst the 1977 Star Wars (later retitled A New Hope) was an unexpected gem that got people intrested in sci-fi, it was really the middle entry, Empire Strikes Back that elevated this trilogy above all others.

With a gloomier tone, an upping of the stakes and the sense that our hero was in genuine peril, Empire Strikes Back set the precedence for how sequels should be done; The Avengers take note.

Whilst the final third is considered the weakest, Return of the Jedi is still a brilliant film that both stacks up by today's standards and completes the story fittingly.

The simple fact that not even a more recent Star Wars trilogy with CGI aliens, planets and dog-fights can even stack-up against the original Star Wars speaks wonders about its brilliance. Now, if only Mr. Lucas would stop tampering with it...

2) The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring/The Two Towers/ The Return of the King)

Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins.
Showing the world how a book adaptation should be done, Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy is nothing short of being a masterpiece. Perfectly paced across all three films, stunningly filmed and rich in the minute details that were poured into Tolkien's original novels, Jackson and co.'s trilogy collected a grand total of 17 Academy Awards overall.

My personal favourite is the opening third, Fellowship of the Ring, but the concluding third Return of the King is seen as the best of the three, despite it's many endings and the Academy agreed, awarding it all of the 13 Oscars it was nominated for. Not bad for a film about midgets with no shoes if you think about it. 

The pressure is now on to see if Jackson can work his same magic on Tolkien's prelude The Hobbit, the first part of which is out this December. 

3) The Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises)

The Dark Knight Rises
The most recent addition to the list, Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy has set the template for all future comic book films. With the horrendous cheese-ridden Joel Schumacher train-wrecks that were Batman Forever and Batman and Robin still relatively fresh in everyone's mind's, it is a miracle that the trilogy was ever pitched in the first place.

Gone were the garish Batsuit nipples, the dinosaur surfing, the cringe-worthy bad dialogue and Arnold Schwarzeneggar.  In it's place, real acting talent (Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Heath Ledger, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, the list goes on), a gritty and dark world soaked in realism (not neon) and intelligent script writing that evoked real-world drama like 9/11 or the GFC.

Arguing over which entry is the best is like picking which is your favourite child, limb or member of One Direction. Batman Begins is a solid start point that put Batman front and centre, The Dark Knight brought us Heath Ledger's wickedly evil and anarchistic Joker (a.k.a. the best movie villain of all time) whilst Dark Knight Rises drew the two together in a epic and brilliant finale.

4) The Toy Story Trilogy (Toy Story 1-3)

"To Infinity and Beyond!"
Getting better with each and every entry, the Toy Story trilogy is family film-making at its greatest. It's inclusion might be based on my own slight bias for the films but it is hard to deny that everyone of all ages can engage with Toy Story.

Again, like with the Dark Knight it is extremely hard to pick a favourite. The original has the, well, originality whilst the second adds some awesome Star Wars jokes with Emperor Zurg as well as Jessie and Bullseye. The third one is the saddest, the incinerator scene especially poignant.

That such a high quality of story-telling has been so consistent across all three films is simply a testament to Pixar's amazing ability to pen stories of such brilliance time after time.

My only hope is that they realise when enough is enough and don't add a fourth, completely robbing the closing scenes in No. 3 of any weight in the process.

5) The Back to the Future Trilogy (Part I - III)

Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly
Another personal favourite of mine, the Back to the Future trilogy is one that is intelligently written, endlessly quotable and cleverly, each entry has its own vibe or motif.

Part One is the set-up; Marty McFly goes back in time to 1955 in a souped-up DeLorean and accidentally prevents his parents from ever getting together. Faced with the task of setting them up again, being erased from existence and riding a bolt of lightning (not literally) back to the future, Marty has his luck stacked against him. 

Part Two sees Marty travel to the far off world of 2015 (!) only to find, upon his return to the 80's that a alternate timeline has been created, whilst in Part Three, Marty has to travel back to 1885 to rescue Doc Brown from the past.

In my mind, the final film is the weakest of the three; the format of every character relatives' being played by three or four actors is feeling the strain and horses and hoe-downs are no match for hover-boards and future fashions.

So there we have it, my top 5 movie trilogies. Leave any thoughts or comments in the box below and check back soon for more blog posts. Now make like a tree, and get out of here.

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