A Few Films that Squandered Their Great Potential
The history of cinema is rife with interesting stories and revolutionary ideas. Whether it be the filming and storytelling techniques of Citizen Kane or the charm and spectacle that came with the original Wizard of Oz, cinema has had its fair share of successes. However, another aspect of cinematic history involves the films that got their start as a wonderful idea, but hit a wall when delivering the final product.
In 2008, Robert Luketic’s film 21 was released in theaters to huge success. The film recounts the events laid out in Ben Mezrich’s 2003 book Bringing Down the House, in which he details how he and a team of MIT students cracked the code and broke one of the oldest rules in Las Vegas – namely that “the house always wins”.
The film sees a cast of students mastering one of the most well-known games in the world. Mentored by their professor, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), the group manages to go up against “The House” and they end up coming out on top in a game of blackjack.
For those who may not be aware, blackjack is a game in which a player’s goal is to accumulate cards, the total sum of which is 21. Nowadays, the game has evolved several variants that make it more popular. Within the film, the students use their expertise in mathematics to count the cards during a match, and thus always come out on top.
Upon release, the film was met with lukewarm reviews. The cast does a fine job, but the movie sort of drags. Many critics praised the film’s portrayal of table games and of casino culture in general. Most, however, pointed out that the film has no heart. Had the creators had the foresight to include just a bit more melodrama, the film likely would have taken its place among the classics.
The Matrix Sequels
Directed by the Wachowski sisters, The Matrix was one of the most popular films of the late 90s. It revolutionized the action movie genre by introducing hyper-stylized action sequences, which remain a staple of blockbuster films to this day. The Wachowski sisters also managed to introduce a bit of philosophy into a genre which previously was viewed as low-brow. The film went on to win dozens of accolades, including four Academy Awards. It also introduced the topic of issues caused by technology, that go beyond just your everyday typical laptop problems and grievances.
So, one can imagine the disappointment when the two Matrix sequels were released, and simply could not match the original. In 2003, the Wachowskis released both sequels to the original film, titled The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Both were met with a resounding “meh”. So, what made these films a disappointment?
The problem comes from the fact that the two sequels did not attempt anything new. The original Matrix film revolutionized a genre whereas the sequels meandered within it. Perhaps it is unfair to judge these films by such high standards, but it is the standards that the directors themselves set.
The Star Wars Prequels
We can’t talk about disappointments without mentioning the prequels to one of the biggest franchises in the history of film. The Star Wars trilogy started in 1977 and everyone believed it would conclude with Return of the Jedi in 1983. However, this would not end up being the case. Fifteen years later, in 1999, George Lucas released the first installment of a long-awaited prequel trilogy.
The Phantom Menace was supposed to tell the story of Anakain Skywalker’s fall to the dark side. Instead, it told the story of intergalactic trade unions, space racing, and one man’s hatred of sand. But it isn’t all bad. The prequels featured fantastic music, choreography and some interesting ideas. It is perhaps for this very reason that, with the benefit of hindsight, these films have been reappraised. Especially considering the travesty that was the Star Wars sequels.