Friday, February 25, 2011

Herr Wozzeck Muses: On Self-Containment

This musing will contain minor spoilers for I Am Number Four, as well as possible spoilers for the Saw franchise. You have been warned.

As I was watching I Am Number Four earlier this week, I tended to sit through most of the boring, generic high-school stuff that we all went around with.

But I also realized another small problem with the movie. With as much time as it spent on the high school stuff, it also spent a bit of time on exposition with the alien races and stuff. Actually, make that quite a bit of it. No. A lot of it. There's a lot of build-up to what each race can do, such as what happens when Number Four's "legacies" start to kick in and he gets super intense agility, super strength, and telekinetic powers. Basically, it's what he gets when he goes through puberty.

It's stuff like this that gave me the feeling the movie was trying too hard to set up future installments of a possible franchise. There was a lot of build-up towards concepts that didn't really go anywhere within this movie, but that felt like it would create interesting scenarios for future installments in a franchise. One of those concepts is a perfect example of this: it's explained some time after Number Four first realizes his feelings for Sarah that Lorians only fall in love with one person in their entire lives. It doesn't amount to much within I Am Number Four, but it's a concept that can very easily be explored in future installments of the franchise. And it's interesting to see where there are hanging plot threads that can be developed in future sequels.

But... it ultimately defeats the movie in two fairly glaring ways, both of which are interconnected.

The first way, is that it leaves a few plot holes lying around (aside from a few others induced by fridge logic). We're never really told exactly why the Mogadorians have to hunt down the Lorian teens on Earth in numerical order. Apparently, it has something to do with magic pendants they carry, but it's never explained fully as to what those pendants do that force the Mogadorians to hunt them in order. Thus, we get a plot hole.

The second way it defeats the movie is that it leaves too many threads open for the rest of the franchise to fill. This addresses a major problem with self-containment. If an installment in a franchise spends more time trying to explain holes left in a previous installment, then it can bog the movie down, and it means that the follow-up has an even more difficult time standing on its own. If a movie is going to start a franchise, it's best if it remains as self-contained as possible. Otherwise, future installments will be stuck with trying to explain the hanging threads from the previous movie, and it leaves people who are just entering the franchise feeling a little out of the loop, which never helps the franchise in question.

It's the same problem I encountered with Saw V (though really, the entire Saw franchise after III is guilty of this in some form or another, but V is the best example, so I'll work with that): the twist from Saw IV ended up leaving a ton of plot threads hanging, most egregiously of those being that they took someone who was a very minor character during the second and third installments, and suddenly he became one of the most important characters in the entire franchise. It was such a blind-siding twist that a majority of Saw V ended up being devoted to filling in the plot holes. Seeing as how trying to fill in the plot holes caused the entire rest of the movie to really drag in terms of pacing, though, it doesn't really help.

This is one very big thing that I found in I Am Number Four to be a major flaw, and perhaps the most dangerous thing of all is that trying to set up a franchise in such a manner in the first movie has the potential to kill it off before the franchise really ever gets off the ground. I found this to be the same thing that Cirque du Freak encountered back in 2009. There were a few plot threads left hanging in that movie too, and as of this posting, there have been no plans for a sequel. (And to that particular movie, I say good riddance.) It's better to make sure the movie can stand alone, and if it does well, great! If not, it tends to be forgotten very easily, and nobody really gets any interest in seeing any sequels to that movie.

It's a self-destructive process for a franchise, to set up a bunch of plot threads to be touched on in sequels. If I want to be perfectly honest, though, a part of me is wishing that I Am Number Four will do well enough in the box office to warrant a sequel. Some of the plot threads left hanging can go in very interesting directions from there, and I'd be up to seeing where the writers decide to take it. But until we get a sequel, I'm counting the hanging plot threads as a point against the movie, and if it never gets a sequel... well, let this particular movie stand as a case study for why you should keep it self contained until you know for sure that Part 2 is actually going to be profitable.

This is Herr Wozzeck Muses. I'll see you guys next time.

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