The word “prequel” does not exactly inspire happy thoughts; the world of movies has suffered enough from backstory explanations taking away from the tantalising mysteries that cinematic stories have previously held. They can ruin narratives, wreck deliberate ambiguity and are, for the most part, shoddy and pointless. You only have to look at the drab and boring second “Star Wars” trilogy or the excruciating “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd” to see that prequels can majorly suck anus when handled badly (as they usually are). But when handled with care and attention, they can enlighten a story and give it more weight and meaning, shining a light on the unknown pasts of major plotlines and characters.
Last Friday (August 5) saw Rupert Wyatt’s sci-fi “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” hitting US cinemas, the film serving as an explanation of how the apes, well, rose and sparked “Planet of the Apes” (1968). The film has received quite a bit of critical acclaim, evidently one of the few prequels that have been managed with that care and attention. To mark this, I’ve taken a look at the top five prequels that successfully expand upon the stories of their predecessor(s), instead of inhaling the contents of their forerunners’ bowels.
5. “Paranormal Activity 2” (2010)
Chiller hit “Paranormal Activity 2” kicks off two months before the events of its low-budget predecessor “Paranormal Activity,” and stars the sister of the first film’s female protagonist. Much like the original, it’s presented in a found-footage format, following the sister and her family as they are haunted by what appears to be the same ghost or demon or poltergeist or Patrick Swayze, whatever, from “PA1.” However, while the first one was entirely filmed by the main characters‘ camcorder, this one is filmed through security cameras set up around the primary setting of the family’s lovely suburban home, although it does contain some camcorder footage. Just as terrifying (or boring if you don’t, ahem, “get” it) as the first, this highly unnerving prequel very much expands upon the story’s mythology, brilliantly setting up the horrifying events that occur in the first movie. Oh, and one more thing… BOO! Ha, scared ya.
4. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984)
“Temple of Doom” is the second film in the Steven Spielberg-directed “Indiana Jones” trilogy (yes, trilogy; “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” does not exist to me). Taking place one year before the Nazi-battling escapades of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” this B-movie prequel of course stars Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, heroic archaeologist, as he finds himself tangled in a world of black magic, sacred stones and human sacrifice. The film is notably darker and more violent than its generally lighthearted predecessor (it was part of the reason the PG-13 rating exists today), and could easily pass as simply a sequel to it; “Temple” doesn’t necessarily add anything to “Raiders,” instead serving as just another one of Indy’s many adventures. And thank god he didn’t go on anymore adventures with that irritating Chinese kid, though. “Okey-dokey, Dr. Jones, hold on to your potatoes”? Shut up, kid.
3. “X-Men: First Class” (2011)
Hopes were not high for the future of the “X-Men” franchise after the series’ first prequel, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” turned out to be such a jaw-dropping disaster of both movie-making and intelligence. Thankfully, however, director Matthew Vaughn’s prequel “X-Men: First Class” was a heck of a lot better, proving to be a universal hit with both nerdy fans and general film-goers alike. Set in the groovy era known as the ’60s, when JFK was still in the White House, it tells the story of how the original X-Men team came to be, as well as how rival mutants Professor X (good guy) and Magneto (bad guy) first met and split apart. With it being the fifth film in the franchise, there are inevitably quite a number of continuity errors as the film clumsily tries to tie itself up with its four predecessors, but as a stand-alone film it is absolutely breathtaking and is, in this writer’s opinion, the best in the franchise. Side note: that may have something to do with the fact that Kevin Bacon is in it. Everyone loves a bit of Bacon, don’t they?
2. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966)
There’s some debate amongst fans as to whether or not “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is actually a prequel to its two predecessors, but the most definitive evidence is this: “TGTBATU” takes place during the American Civil War, while “A Fistful of Dollars” and “For a Few Dollars More” are both set after the American Civil War, which is shown through a gravestone that’s dated 1873 (after the Civil War) in the first film, though some say this is simply an error by the filmmakers. Also, it’s in “TGTBATU” that the trilogy’s protagonist first comes across the trademark clothes he wore in the first two movies. Anyway, the film sees Clint Eastwood returning as The Man with No Name, a gun-slinging anti-hero of the wild west who ends up on the quest to find Confederate gold that’s apparently buried in a cemetery. Sergio Leone’s astonishing spaghetti western is often cited as the very best of the genre, considered by many to be one of the greatest movies of all time; pretty good for a prequel, huh?
1. “The Godfather, Part II” (1974)
“The Godfather, Part II” is both a sequel and a prequel all rolled into one big movie, if that makes sense. You see, about half of Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster masterpiece is a typical sequel, focusing on the events revolving around Michael Corleone in the late ’50s as he becomes the Don of his mob family following the events of the first movie. The other half, however, is very much a prequel, it telling the origins of Michael’s father Vito’s rise to power in the business of organised crime in 1920s New York. The film frequently jumps between these two narratives over its three-plus-hour length, both storylines given a pretty equal amount of screen-time, making it not only the greatest sequel of all time, but also the greatest prequel of all time. It’s true; IMDb says so.
By Stephen Watson