Saturday, October 30, 2010

Number of sequels vs. number of dimensions

Saw VII is coming out today. Marking the seventh straight year -- and last, they tell us -- a Saw movie has been released the weekend before Halloween.

Except it's not called Saw VII. It's called Saw 3D.

I take issue in general with using the word "3D" in the title of a movie, in large part because it will only actually be experienced in the correct number of dimensions by a minority of the people who see it. Some will see it in a theater that isn't equipped for 3D, like the drive-in theater that sends me weekly emails, which had to specify it wasn't in 3D. Many more will see it later on video, where they probably either won't have the glasses or won't have the correct type of TV. Including the word "3D" in the actual title, then -- rather than saying [Title] in 3D!, a marketing campaign that would be limited to the period of time in which the theatrical release was being advertised -- is a kind of permanent deception of the viewing public.

But it looks like we're going to have to get used to seeing "3D" in the titles for movies, so let's not push that particular argument too far.

When it becomes really problematic is when the 3 in 3D is out of sync with the sequel number of the franchise in question. Like the Saw series.

Some series have gotten lucky. Some series -- like Jackass and Step Up -- were timed just perfectly so that the third movie in the series would be the one to take advantage of the current craze. Hence, this year's Jackass 3D and Step Up 3D. Hearkens back to the last major 3D trend, when the third Friday the 13th was in 3D, as was the third Jaws. (We should probably pause here to honor Pixar's restraint in resisting the urge to call their 2010 release Toy Story 3D.)

Or it can be the first movie in a series, like this year's Piranha 3D. I'm okay with that too. (Okay, you caught me -- this year's Piranha is actually sort of a third Piranha movie, as there were exactly two previously. However, Piranha II: The Spawning came out 29 years ago, so I hardly think this year's Piranha counts as a third movie to most viewers.)

But the Saw example is really problematic. Seeing the 3 on the poster may time warp some people back to 2006, when Saw III was coming out. (Though to be fair, they used roman numerals on those posters -- or actually, three uprooted teeth dangling from ropes.) For those expecting Saw VII to follow last year's Saw VI, there's a definite disconnect.

Which brings us back to the argument made at various times previously on this blog, about how studios think their franchises can get a boost if the latest release appears as some kind of a reboot. By destroying the sequel numbering system in the Saw series, they're trying to tell you that this movie could be something new and freshly worthy of your attention -- not just the seventh movie in a series. A roman numeral VII behind any movie title tends to cause snickers, even among its most devoted fans -- it's that point at which continuing on in a series strikes everyone as ridiculous. You might say that point should have logically been reached after a half-dozen, or even five, but the seventh movie really pushes it over the top.

Not so, now. Instead of this being the seventh Saw, it's the Saw that's in 3D. And also, the last Saw.

Or so they say.

I'll believe that when I don't see the next one in 2011. Or 2015. Or whenever they decide it's the perfect time to release Saw VIII.

Or, by that point, perhaps Saw 4D.

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