It’s safe to say that, unless they are based on some similarly styled source material (book, play, etc.), the motion picture trilogy is a product of popularity. Though its narrative and cinematic symmetry can be breathtaking to behold, most three part films were not preplanned. Instead, they were forged out of a desire to please the audience mixed with a need to repay the cast/crew. George Lucas can argue all he wants to that his Star Wars saga—now finally out on Blu-ray—was always intended as three separate three-part projects (guess the crappy prequels destroyed that dream, right big G?) but Fox barely wanted to release the first film. So what fodder did he have for contemplating such a massive vision? The answer is obvious—he didn’t. Like most eventual franchises, box office gave Luke Skywalker’s real pappy a chance to dream, resulting in the genre’s first example of the law of diminishing returns.
There are a couple of factors inherent in determining the best trilogies of all time. First, the three films included have to be linked in some significant way. They can’t be a pure product of money-oriented moviemaking. Secondly, all three movies must be worth watching. A sloppy second act or atrocious third movement means the overall quality is compromised. A few can survive this kind of scrutiny—most cannot. Finally, there is a subjective element known as “completeness”. Do the films that make up this multi-faceted narrative really deliver on their designs, is there an all encompassing arc, or are we stuck seeing the same old story told over and over again? By answering these important questions, and taking into consideration other objective criteria like continuity and completeness, a final assessment can be reached.
With the high def arrival of everyone’s favorite (?) space sagas, now’s as good a time as any to countdown the all time greats of triangular tale-spinning. Some may surprise you. Others will shock you. But in the context of this discussion, all are worthy of classics consideration:
Miscreant Michael Findlay and his wife Roberta made a lot of sleazy exploitation flicks in their time, but these were, perhaps, their most repugnant. Not for what they showed on screen—this was the mid-’60s after all, not the most lenient of censorship eras. No, these three films formed the foundation of the modern slasher shocker, with the mindless torture and killing of nubile young women at the fore. Cringe all you want at their seedy mix of sex and slaughter, but you’ll never look at your favorite knife-wielding maniac the same way after watching madman Michael (who also starred as the killer) put the wicked wanton smack down.
What? You think we’d leave this off? No way, woo-kie. George Lucas may be a money grubbing, soul stealing, dream dashing basta… businessman, but he did help co-create the entire popcorn movie era of cinema. Unlike anything anyone had seen at the time of its release, the original Wars stands as one of those unique audience epiphanies. After a decade drenched in sodden self examination and social commentary, movies were actually fun again. And with the release of each additional installment, things just got better and better. Sure, over time, Darth’s real demagogue has drained all the joy out of his original vision, but we still have our memories. Luckily, he can’t digitally redesign them.
Anchored by the amazing work of Swedish sensational Noomi Rapace and drawn from the international bestsellers by the late, great Stieg Larsson, these three films take a familiar concept—the disappearance of a beloved family member and the search for what happened to them—and turns it into a work of such stunning scope and epic evil that it’s almost impossible to ignore. Some has suggested that only the first film here is worthy of accolade, but the truth is that watching all three films together turns the latter two installments into something quite special. Indeed, they all pull together to create a landscape so unsettling it’s like visiting the layers of Hell itself.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.