The Midi-Chlorian Ruination Scale and the summer movie season

The Midi-Chlorian Ruination Scale and the summer movie season (photo)

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Movies are fixed (for the most part) but our opinions of them are fluid. You might see a movie and hate it, then see it again five years later and love it. Maybe your tastes changed, maybe the context changed, but for whatever reason the exact same movie generated two wildly different reactions. One common factor in these divergent opinions are sequels: a great sequel casts a rosy light on a predecessor (think “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”) while a crummy sequel retroactively diminishes our feelings about the original (think “The Matrix” and “The Matrix Revolutions”).

To measure the impact of sequels on their franchises and our opinions of them, Nick Fortugno created the clever Midi-Chlorian Ruination Scale. It’s an effective way to pinpoint the degree to which one film reflects positively or negatively on the rest of a series. It’s named, of course, for the “Star Wars” prequels, which introduced all sorts of dopey retroactive continuity, most infamously the idea of “midi-chrlorians,” microscopic blood-dwelling organisms that were revealed in “Episode I” to be the source of Jedi’s magical powers. As Fortugno puts it:

“I’m sorry, the Force comes from bacteria?!? That’s just stupid. And not only is it stupid, it makes Jedi, some of the coolest warriors in all of science fiction, completely lame. Can you even WATCH the first three movies anymore? All I see when I look at Luke is a guy with a really rampant infection, and that’s not heroic or cool. It’s just embarrassing, and I would argue that thanks to midi-chlorians, so is admitting to liking ‘Star Wars,’ anything of ‘Star Wars,’ now that the later movies exist.”

According to Fortugno, that would make the “Star Wars” prequels a -6 out of -6 on the Midi-Chlorian Ruination Scale (MCRS), because “the later content destroys the narrative such that the early work, which was widely loved, is no longer even passable in quality. The brand is completely and irreversibly destroyed.” That ranks it above (or below, I guess) “The Matrix Revolutions” with an MCRS of -5 (“it is possible to respect the original property, but only by utterly ignoring the bad material and treating it like it doesn’t exist in a willful violation of the truth of the imaginary entertainment environment.”) and “Alien Resurrection”‘s MCRS of -3 (“The brand is effectively dead from that point on. Once the changes have been established, you can’t go any further, because it’s all become too lame. But this doesn’t ruin earlier instances — they can remain cool in isolation from later work.”).

Fortugno’s highest grade is a 0, which he gives to sequels that have no negative impact on previous films; his examples are the many “Star Trek” sequels. I do think the MCRS should be revised to allow for positive scores for rare movies like “The Godfather Part II” which provide interesting and beneficial retroactive continuity (like De Niro’s sequences as the young Vito Corleone). But overall, I really like this rating system.

In fact, I dig it so much I thought we should apply the MCRS to some of this summer’s franchise tentpoles. I say some because according to industry experts, every single movie released in the last fifteen weeks was a sequel or a reboot or a prequel or a remake or a prequoot (otherwise known as a simultaneous prequel and reboot) of some kind. Rating them all would take days, but here are a few notable ones. I’m maintaining Fortugno’s 0-6 score, but I’m going to note the instances where I think a positive MCRS score would be applicable. For instance:

“Fast Five”
MCRS Score: 0

Here is a sequel that definitely improved its previous films in retrospect and deserves a score better than 0: not only was it absolutely the most satisfying film in the series since the original “The Fast & the Furious” but it also made me truly excited for a “Fast Six” that continues the film’s numerous plotlines. The final post-credits teaser retroactively made the big plot twist in the earlier “Fast & Furious” more intriguing, and the seamless incorporation of characters from previously disparate installments of the franchise (Roman from “2 Fast 2 Furious,” Han from “Tokyo Drift,” and so on) created a sense of this giant mythos that didn’t exist before.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
MCRS Score: -1

The third “Transformers” film introduced a ton of heretofore untold backstory for the perpetually feuding Autobots and Decepticons, including a previously unmentioned (but apparently vitally important) alien ship crashed on the dark side of the Moon, a previously unmentioned (but apparently vitally important) former leader of the Autobots, and a previously unmentioned (but apparently vitally important) weapon that could turn the tide in their war. Most of these elements were fairly dumb, but then most elements of every “Transformers” are fairly dumb, and the ones in “Dark of the Moon” did little to harm the ongoing continuity of the “Transformers” franchise (it is really hard, by the way, to write the phrase “ongoing continuity of the ‘Transformers’ franchise” and not burst out laughing). Still, “Dark of the Moon” would surely rate better on the MCRS than its predecessor, “Revenge of the Fallen” which introduced its own set of characters and MacGuffins, most of whom were borderline racist stereotypes.

“X-Men: First Class”
MCRS Score: -1

This is a tough film to grade. “X-Men: First Class” was one of my favorite films of the summer, but there’s no denying that it featured a lot of borderline absurd retroactive continuity. How does Cyclops have a brother who’s at least thirty years older than he is? If Emma Frost was around in the 1960s, who was the teenage girl that was introduced as the same character in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine?” And if mutants got involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis, how did they keep their existence secret from the public for another thirty years? That’s why I’m giving the movie a -1; these things are undeniably dumb but, as Fortugno puts it, they’re “trivial enough that it doesn’t effect your view of the series as a whole” and I “still wholeheartedly like the originals and continue to like the brand.” “Wolverine,” though, would have to rate at least a -2 or maybe even a -3.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
MCRS Score: 0

Like “Fast Five,” this is another example of a sequel that improves upon the fictional universe built by its predecessors. The origin story of the Planet of the Apes provided in the original ’60s and ’70s films was convoluted to the point of unintentional humor. In contrast, the revisions offered by “Rise” were clear, believable, and scary. The plot machinations of prequels often feel awkward and forced — things happen not because one beat follows logically to the next, but because the demands of previous films require them to — but that wasn’t the case with “Rise.” Almost everything felt believably motivated by the actions of Caesar, the leader of the ape rebellion. Maybe that’s why “Rise” has surprised a lot of people at the box office. It’s a prequel prequoot that feels like an original film.

What MCRS scores would you give to the rest of this year’s sequels?” Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!


Stephen's Lavish Life

Stephen Merchant Has Big Real Estate Dreams on This Week’s Comedy Bang! Bang!

Comedy Bang! Bang! is all-new Thursday at 11P with guest Stephan Merchant.

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Stephen Merchant says “Hello Ladies” on this week’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, dropping by to tell Scott all about the lavish lifestyle that comes with having cocreated The Office.

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The British actor and comedian sits down with Scott and Cudi to talk about his many homes and what he has in common with Elton John. Learn all about how Stephen rolls Thursday at 11p PT/ET after an all-new Benders and an encore of this week’s skate-tastic Gigi Does It.

SAW, Shawnee Smith, 2004. ph: Greg Gayne/©Lionsgate/courtesy Everett Collection

Saw's Death Traps

The Creepiest Death Traps From the Saw Movies

See Jigsaw's creepiest traps.

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The deathtraps featured in the Saw movies are basically what would happen if Rube Goldberg and Hellraiser had a demon hell child. Jigsaw (and his assistants) build devices of such staggering complexity that it’s a wonder what they could actually accomplish if they used their skills for good instead of for ironic punishment.

Before you catch the Saw movie marathon on IFC, check out the most creepiest traps from each movie which, of course, are very NSFW unless you work for Jigsaw.

1. The Reverse Bear Trap, Saw

The Reverse Bear Trap was the most visually distinctive contraption of the original movie and set the macabre template for the rest of the series. A large metal machine is connected to the victim’s face. If they fail the test, powerful motors will open their jaw to a truly fatal degree. It basically takes all of our dental surgery fears to a horrifying new level.

2. The Razor Box, Saw II

The Razor Box presents a serious dilemma: A poisoned victim sees a clear box containing an antidote. But if they reach in to grab it, razors cut into their arms. Just a few seconds of examination would have revealed the trap’s key on top of the box. It turns out that when you’re locked in a filthy pit of death traps by a lunatic, the most obvious solution completely goes out the window.

3. Amanda’s Test, Saw III

Amanda survives the Reverse Bear Trap from the first movie and goes on to work with Jigsaw. (And you thought your job interview was bad.) Unfortunately it turns out that most people building death traps don’t actually want their victims to survive. When Amanda shoots someone rather than releasing them from a shotgun collar, Jigsaw explains that that was Amanda’s test. Just after manipulating his other apprentice into shooting her in the neck.

4. See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Saw IV

Two men wake up wearing collars chained to a winding cylinder. One has his eyes sewn shut, the other his mouth, so they’re not really in a condition to take a calm look at the situation. The result is a perfectly brutal tragedy of miscommunication and mutilation.

5. The Fatal Five Teamwork Traps, Saw V

Five victims face a series of traps which can be non-lethally solved with the power of teamwork. (Jigsaw could’ve had a great side career as a corporate trainer.) Unfortunately for the five (then four, then three…) they compete with and kill each other until the final test, where they have to sacrifice a total of ten pints of blood to escape. With only two people left, it doesn’t go well.

6. Breathing Room, Saw VI

A health insurance executive and his company’s heavy-smoker janitor are locked into crushing vices connected to breathing masks. The more they breathe, the tighter the vices close, until only one survives. We’ll be honest; we love this because someone specifically built it so that the “breathing room” pun isn’t the most painful aspect.

7. The Love Triangle, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter

The many Saw sequels meant that Jigsaw and his cohorts had to get even more creative to keep their deathtraps fresh. The Love Triangle took things into the outside world by sticking three actual bodies in a mall display full of actual saws. How did Jigsaw install a murder machine and three actual living humans in a public display booth without being caught? And where is Batman when you need him? Jigsaw is really approaching Joker territory here.


Balls to the Wall

Meet a Dysfunctional Dodgeball Team on Ball or Nothing

Catch new Comedy Crib episodes every Tuesday.

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In the first episode of Comedy Crib‘s Ball or Nothing, Chloe just wants to hit her ex in the face — with a dodgeball. Since her ex really, really deserves such a fate, her teammates are more than happy to have her back on this one.

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The new series will take you onto the sidelines of an adult dodgeball team, revealing that like on Benders, sometimes real life happens on the sidelines. The show is written and created by Megan Rosati of the hit comedic web series 52 Ways to Break Up and features actress Brea Grant (Heroes, Real Housewives of Horror) as the very intense teammate Chloe.

Also on Comedy Crib this week, the latest episode of Does Dave Know We’re Here? shows how a group of friends kill time in the car while waiting for their pal Dave. If you’ve ever wanted to get into the tuxedo shirt business, this episode is for you.

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Zoolander 2

Blue Steel Is Back

Watch the Ridiculously Funny Zoolander 2 Trailer

Portlandia returns January 21st at 10P ET/PT.

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Photo Credit: Red Hour Productions/YouTube

The Zoolander 2 trailer is finally here, and it appears that someone is trying to kill the world’s most beautiful people. (Even Justin Bieber isn’t safe!)

The film has a lot of familiar, hilarious faces like Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Will Ferrell, but the trailer also features a ton of new additions including a nearly unrecognizable Kristen Wiig, Kyle Mooney, Penelope Cruz, Fred Armisen, and Benedict Cumberbatch (but not his eyebrows).

While the Portlandia and Documentary Now! star isn’t in the new trailer, Fred has the Instagram shots to prove that he was on the set. When he was heading to Rome, where the highly anticipated (and very good looking) sequel was filmed, Fred also proved that he is very good at packing a bag. The how-to video was so impressive that Ben Stiller had no choice but to repost the announcement with the caption: “Excited @sordociego (Fred Armisen!!) is joining the #zoolander2 cast!”

Excited @sordociego (Fred Armisen!!) is joining the #zoolander2 cast!

A video posted by Derek Zoolander (@zoolander) on

As Fred told Conan O’Brien, he had a lot of fun working on the film and touring the sites of Rome with his selfie stick. Be sure to check back for more updates about Fred’s role in Zoolander 2 and the sixth season of Portlandia, which premieres January 21st at 10P ET/PT on IFC

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