Star Date 1999: Capt. James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock of the Starship Enterprise have dates with the gals from "Cocoon" and Kirk orders Scotty to beam them up. "Cap'n Kirk, I've hardly got enough dilithium crystals to keep my pants up," grouses Scotty, clambering from under the ship's hood to turn on the beamer-upper.
The ray-borne molecules re-form to reveal a trio of swarthy men in chalk-stripe suits with dark shirts and white ties. There on the transporter pads are three members of the Corleone family, one of them snuggling an adorable blue bundle.
"Holy Crab Nebula!" yells Kirk. "You've beamed up the wrong sequel. It's "Godfathers Three and a Baby."
"I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse," cracks the baby, who sounds just like Bruce Willis.
A sudden dissolve reveals a vulnerable teenage girl from America's Heartland as she pulls the covers up over her head.
"Wake up, darling," sings her mother.
"I just had the most horrible nightmare, Mommy," says the girl. "Like, it was about sequels."
Outside a little terrier sniffs a signpost marked "Elm Street."
When F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in America, he had not seen "Smokey and the Bandit II." If we are still a nation of rugged individualists, it doesn't show at the box office, where the marquees prove positively Roman-numerous. Despite the disappointing performances of "Back to the Future II" and "III," among others, the sequel remains a Hollywood staple. There is gold, job security and a kind of vicarious immortality in making McMovies.
Xerox Corp. aside, the entertainment industry is foremost in recycling American ingenuity -- even if it was imported from France a` la "Trois Hommes et un Couffin," which became "Three Men and a Baby," courtesy of Disney. Droves fell in love with bachelor dads changing Pampers and are gladly forking over their $7 to see them do the same thing all over. Though critically dismissed, "Three Men and a Little Lady" bested the original's first five days at the box office by 40 percent.
"Disney has the pulse of the general audience," says David Levy, owner of the Key Theater in Georgetown. "This is an audience that wants to feel comfortable, not an audience that is artistically critical." In other words, those who frequent art houses such as the Key prefer subtitled, obscure or risky releases. But even they were unable to resist "Manon of the Spring," the frisky second half of "Jean de Florette."
Mostly, however, the mainstream is marked by a real lack of curiosity, says Alan Entin, a Richmond therapist who attributes what we call sequel abuse to "repetition compulsion. Repetition leads to familiarity and familiarity to pleasure.
"Life has become more unpredictable, stressful and chaotic, and people want to feel some inner sense of continuity," says Entin, president of the family division of the American Psychological Association. "And one way to achieve harmony is through sequels and reruns. It is the outward manifestation of the inner search for stability and sameness. We know that Rocky is going to win at the last minute. In fact, we yearn for that."
And the pithy palooka has never once failed us. Like a yo-yo, he comes back to us. The American affair with "Rocky" has gone on for 14 years, lasting twice as long as the average American marriage. Handsome princes may turn into Dagwood, but Balboa is always going to be the bone-crushing Cinderella, forever a part of our extended emotional family.
"Our mobile society cuts us off from extended family and friends," suggests Entin. "And watching epic characters at different points in their lives lends continuity to ours."
What the characters are up against, of course, reflects the dilemmas of the day. And "Rocky V" is currently facing bankruptcy, a rebellious Rocky Jr. and irreversible brain damage. But star Sylvester Stallone, who has six sequels under his belt, says he is through with Rocky and Rambo, calling America's beloved behemoths a pair of "monosyllabic meat slabs." Though with the specter of war at hand, the odds are he won't be able to resist "Rambo IV Meets Rocky VI: Nightmare on Saddam Street."
The Ultimate Sequel? John Rambo is biting the heads off squirrels, geeklike, when the whup-whup of chopper blades intrudes on his mountain retreat. Rocky, the symbol of America, has been captured by "them Musleem camel jockeys," says Sarge, and Rambo must save him. We next see Rambo against the dunes, nude but for a Royal Velvet towel wound round his head. His beautiful Iraqi guide warns that a caravan of tanks is blocking their progress toward the really big tent where Saddam Hussein and boxing promoter Don King are trying to talk Rocky into a winner-take-all bout for control of OPEC.
Back in the dunes, Rambo is about to kiss his guide, when she is shot dead by an enemy sniper. Now really really mad, Rambo pulls out a Swiss Army knife and charges the tent. "Yo, Saddam," he cries. "You're shish kebab."
Sequel and Ye Shall Find Believers in the big-bang theory will tell you the universe is its own sequel, that one day we'll slap up against the cosmic outer limits in Big Bang II. The universe, or the Great Shebang her own self, has a repetition compulsion as surely as does producer Cubby Broccoli, who has spent his entire life making movies about the debonair James Bond.
Boys will be boys, and since boys make most sequels, most sequels are for and about boys. This can also be said of the industry at large, of course, but sequels are almost as exclusive as the men's room. Most superheroes, if they have relationships with women at all, end up pulling their pigtails. Mad Max, Conan and 007 do battle with Amazons (especially Grace Jones); Indiana Jones, Superman and the Beverly Hills Cop pal around with gutsy Girl Scout types; and Freddy, Jason and Chucky chop up the sexy young ones.
The glaring exception, of course, is Ripley of "Alien," "Aliens" and a trequel in the planning stages. Though the role was originally written for a man, Sigourney Weaver has a kind of androgynous sexual appeal and toughness that won over both horror and mainstream audiences. "Aliens," in which Ripley meets the Mother From Another Planet, even allowed the heroine a maternal motivation for the climactic cat fight, and that was ferocious mother love.
"Sequels are largely epic in scope," says Entin, "and turn on simple issues of good and evil. They are in a way morality plays." This is so whether they are broadly comic, action-packed or just plain horrific. They seldom if ever feature witty dialogue or adult conversation, and if they do, they flop in the manner of recent sequels to "Chinatown" ("The Two Jakes") and "The Last Picture Show ("Texasville"). (But then they were both rotten movies.) The industry is never going to make "A Room With a View, Also," "Babette Does Dishes," "My After-Dinner Drink With Andre" or "Midnight Cowboy II: Ratso in Florida."
Sequels are for people who don't really want to work at either making or watching a story. But it was not always thus.
The Bible's Old and New Testaments aside, we think of Shakespeare's "Henry VI: Part 2" and "Part 3" as the original theatrical sequels in Western civilization. It seems likely that old Angles sat round the smoldering peat reprising "Beowulf," but no written record exists. And yet to this day, we like our heroes primitive.
Have You Got Much More to Xerox? When he was little more than a Bavarian meat dumpling, little Arnold Schwarzenegger became fascinated with the Herculean films of Steve Reeves, whom he emulated until recently. This holiday season he is playing a street-smart cop again, all right, but this time he's gone undercover as the nurturing "Kindergarten Cop." It's testing through the roof with audiences, say sources who say such things.
Like those other Christmas releases, "Three Men and a Little Lady" and "Look Who's Talking, Too," the Schwarzenegger comedy is about parenting. Even better, it's about a cop who gets into snuggling young'uns. Known for his show business savvy, Schwarzenegger has united action adventure with infantile comedy.
"Clearly what society sees a need for today is men in parenting roles," says Entin. The final proof that we, as a nation, are groping toward wellness would find Peter Weller starring in something called "RoboPop," no longer just an officer in a can, but a tempered-steel disciplinarian.
Of course, parents are the world's true sequel-makers, and it is high time they got into the act. Romances, as "Jewel of the Nile" proved, do not recycle well. There's all that business of bonding that gets in the way once the swooning stops. But why not jump to the inevitable outcome of all that preliminary nuzzling -- the talking fetus? Since it has become possible to take actual sonograms of the unborn themselves -- well, just imagine.
The Final Word Making sequels is just like hiccuping -- once you get started it's hard to stop. Steve Guttenberg, known as Mr. Sequel around Tinseltown, is a particularly tragic case. A glutton for repetitiousness, he has starred not only in "Three Men" and the sequel, but also in both "Cocoons" and four of six "Police Academies." Bruce Willis seems well on his way to sequeholism as the indefatigable supercop of "Die Hard" and "Die Harder" and the voice of "Look Who's Talking" and "Look Who's Talking, Too."
We can only pray for "Die Hardest: Baby, Fess Up," the story of an indefatigable supercop who tries to force a fetus to testify against its mother (Kirstie Alley) in a murder trial when suddenly the mother and the baby, who sounds like Mercedes McCambridge, start to dematerialize.
"Now look what you've done," says Kirk.
"Well I'll be a Romulan horse's patoot," says Scotty, considering retirement. But he doesn't want to miss "Star Trek VI: Spock Gets an Ear Job."
To be continued ...