Thursday, 10 February 2011
In economics, diminishing returns (also called diminishing marginal returns) refers to how the marginal production of a factor of production starts to progressively decrease as the factor is increased.
In World of Warcraft, diminishing returns means that certain spells and abilities are less effective against player characters if they are used frequently within a short period of time.
The tendency for a continuing application of effort or skill toward a particular project or goal to decline in effectiveness after a certain level of result has been achieved.
While at the SFX Weekender, I sat in on a Q&A session with China Miéville. He was asked whether he would ever return to the Bas-Lag universe in future novels. The gist of his answer (I wish I'd written it down, because, as always, Mr Miéville was beyond eloquent) was that there is a fear of returning to a previous creation and doing it to death, producing endless copies which gradually become more and more pointless.
On the Monday evening after the SFX Weekender, I was looking for some no-brainer entertainment and chose to do a Pirates of the Caribbean back-to-back marathon.
These two factors combined caused me to think about the rule of diminishing returns within our beloved genre.
SFF is not alone in the tendency to milk a cash cow past its sell-by date - we've had the same occur in sitcoms, such as Scrubs, arguably Friends (although there were still humorous moments right to the end, it lost much of the sharp comedy from the first few seasons) and Seinfeld.
However, there are numerous examples of diminishing returns within the world of SFF, and I plan to pick out a few.
Okay, I already hit on this particular trilogy:
Watching them back to back really highlighted the bloated deficiencies of the second and third film in comparison to the first. The original movie - although probably over-long - was swashbuckling fun, with an actual linear plotline, and some great characters.
The second film concentrated on set pieces as the expense of plot, but still provided some entertainment, especially regarding the introduction of Davy Jones.
The third film was an utter mess - people double-crossing, triple-crossing, quadruple-crossing each other; a weird section with multiple Jack Sparrows; and a careering "plot" that didn't actually seem to go anywhere.
I almost shudder at the idea of the future films which are currently being worked on...
Here is another trilogy that really should have stuck at just one film:
The original Matrix film was a marvel of gripping storyline, pounding soundtrack and some ground-breaking new techniques. Remember when bullet-time was not ubiquitous to all science fiction films? I recall watching with my mouth open in wonder at a lot of the scenes in this first film.
And then came the second and third films... Why? They descended the trilogy into nonsense philosophy and random set pieces. If the Matrix had remained just one film, it would stand right up there as a part of SFF film canon. Messing with the original concept and producing more films only meant that any affection for the first film was diminished thoroughly.
The fact that there is a phrase 'jumping the shark' demonstrates ably that people believe a lot of TV series go further than they really should have.
For this I am merely going to produce a series of stills from the TV shows I believe jumped - do you agree or disagree?
Those were just off the top of my head - I'm sure if pushed I could come up with a number of others.
Even book series are not immune from travelling WAAAY beyond what most fans deem appropriate. A lot of urban fantasy series seem to suffer from dragging out what was a slight story in the first place.
I have two examples. The first is this:
Even Laurell K Hamilton's first few books weren't exactly brilliant - although she did a nice line in tense horror, there was far too much discussing relationships and monster politics. When LKH stuck to police investigations and the raising of the dead, the Anita Blake series was pretty damn entertaining though. Around book ten of the series something changed. Anita developed the ardeur and suddenly needed to have sex with pretty much everything walking - we've had furry sex, threesomes, foursomes, hell probably up to sixsomes, deep-throating, rain-making (which is both ick and eeew!) At this point the series became redundant as an urban fantasy creation and became fairly hardcore S&M eroticism. I don't mind erotic writing at all - but overuse of the word 'spill' during sex scenes caused me to put this series down. Spill sounds so accidental, don't you think?
The other series that has outstayed its welcome in a grand way is this one:
The first few books were... alright, I guess. Derivative and far too much S&M-themed fantasy (I'm sensing a theme here...) but just about readable - can you tell I said that really begrudgingly?
After a little while, though, Mr Goodkind decided to inflict upon his readers his views on politics. The message was barely couched in the form of fantasy - rather, we were bludgeoned over the head by what the author thought on various matters. Dire and tiresome, all at the same time.
What kills me is that after a brief and deeply unsuccessful foray into other genres, Terry Goodkind is back to inflict further fantasy horrors on us from this series.
Doing It Well
There are some book series that have extended to double-digits but still retain fantastic quality - one of these is the Jim Butcher series about Harry Dresden.
Leaving the Party Early - and Gracefully
Some TV series have managed to step off the ride while still welcome to return. Here are a few examples:
And the non-genre brilliance of Fawlty Towers!
Okay, dear readers, over to you - which TV series, books, movies have overstayed their welcome in your opinion? Do you agree or disagree vehemently with any of the choices I've made above?