George Lucas opened the prequel floodgates with his totally unnecessary (although it didn't feel like it at the time, the sense of excitement was so high) Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, followed by the equally pointless Attack of the Clones and the frankly depressing Revenge of the Sith.
And now the prequels just keep on coming, coming and coming with the latest uncalled for prequel, X-Men: First Class, recently released on DVD. It's all, of course, to make some extra, guaranteed bucks out of an audience who are already hooked into the franchise. It's a financial no-brainer. Audiences surely want to know their favourite characters' back stories, don't they? But do we really? Do we really want to go back to the characters' origins? Isn't it actually quite annoying to go backwards?
Not only do these prequels rarely work, only very occasionally enhancing the story (Batman Begins, The Godfather II and J J Abrams's Star Trek being honourable exceptions), but they actually, in a lot of cases, make very little narrative sense. We're meant to believe, for example, that Charles Xavier and Mystique in the X-Men series were originally quite close pals. But in the "later" films, the closeness between these two characters is not referred to in any shape or form. It's just something the prequel-makers decided to insert to juice up their origins story. It makes no storytelling sense, and only irritates fans of the original films.
At least the X-Men prequel was blessed with a cohesive script, zesty direction from Matthew Vaughn and strong performances, as opposed to some of the prequels that have been foisted on baffled audiences. We're talking about the likes of 2005's Romy and Michele: In the Beginning.
The original 1997 feature Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, starring Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino as dozy 28-year-olds returning to their high school and faking their achievements, was quite sweet, but not terribly memorable. It didn't require a sequel, let alone a prequel where we're shown the two airheads (played by Katherine Heigl and Alex Breckenridge) graduating from high school and dreaming of making it in LA. Why on earth was this film made? The same goes for 2003's Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, a prequel described by one critic as a "nightmarish travesty" or Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, the third instalment in the neck-biter franchise but chronologically the first in the series. It's confusing. The same goes for the underwhelming Red Dragon (a prequel to Silence of the Lambs), 2006's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and the lamentable Tremors 4: The Legend Begins. All dismal attempts to wring every last penny out of the fans of these franchises.
Now the "ultimate" prequel is on its way: The Hobbit. It'll be directed by Peter Jackson, who did such a sensational job with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This troubled (changes in director, union disputes etc) film does make some sort of sense. An awful lot of people want to see this particular origins tale. The only concern is whether the younger version (played by Martin Freeman) of Bilbo Baggins will match up to the older version (played by Ian Holm). You can't help but compare the two, noting any discrepancies in their intonation, their mannerisms and their movements. This is one of the reasons Star Wars was such a disappointment. Ewan McGregor simply wasn't a credible younger version of Alec Guinness's Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Where will it end? Will no great film be immune to the prequel treatment: "Casablanca 2" (Rick and Isla's cute-meet in Paris), "Some Like It Tepid" (Joe and Jerry as budding child musicians), "ET's Journey" (the little alien's trip to Earth)... Sequels are bad enough but prequels are possibly even worse.