The Cornetto Trilogy – The Best Non-Trilogy in Film History?
Reviewing The World’s End (the end result you can read here, shameless plug) felt a bit like saying goodbye. Knowing that this was the last of the breed, that we’d never see another film of exactly this ilk again was slightly bittersweet. Or would we see another film like this? I’ll deal with that later. For now, let’s take a look back at the Cornetto Trilogy. And if you’ve been living under a rock inside a dustbin on the dark side of Mars, that series comprises of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End.
The Cornetto Trilogy
But hang on, I hear you cry. Everyone is calling this a trilogy, and yet there’s no connecting chronological elements to any of those films. There’s not even a subtle cameo – you don’t see Shaun slouching around in the back of a pub in The World’s End. These are ostensibly three completely standalone films. So how on Earth did they gain the moniker of trilogy? Well it appears series doyen Edgar Wright may have casually reinvented the definition of trilogy – or rather, he joked about someone who had. Ever heard of Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski? Don’t worry, me neither. He directed a trio of films literally called the Three Colours Trilogy, with absolutely no connecting characters or settings. Instead what linked them were themes, styles, and the way they were made. So there is a precedent. And if you study the three Cornetto films, they all follow a clear formula: take a quirky British film, mix it with a Hollywood blockbuster genre, throw in a who’s-who of British acting talent playing well-rounded believable characters and a vague connecting theme of underdogs refusing to conform to an oppressive force (respectively zombies, cultists and robot droid things), and sprinkle liberally with multiple tablespoons of rapid-fire gags and nerdy film references. So under this criteria, the Cornetto Trilogy is worth of it’s name and classification.
And in many ways this type of trilogy avoids the trappings of regular trilogies. Namely by not having direct sequels or prequels, it sidesteps the issue of trying to keep the same characters going stale and avoiding repetition of plot points. Although in mainstream cinema that’s not mandatory – the list of pointless sequels to series which devalue their series and reduce loveable characters to overdone pastiches of themselves is depressingly growing (Die Hard, Star Wars and the Fast and the Furious for three). Seems if you slap a franchise name on something, enough mugs will go to see it even if they come out wondering why they bothered. The Cornetto Trilogy subverts the formula – it’s like the Far Cry series of videogames, which carry the same name but actually have no connecting elements except for they’re all first-person shooters in a free-roaming sandbox. So tell someone that a Cornetto Trilogy film is coming out, and they’ll go and see it – even if it has no links to the previous ones superficially. Everyone is happy – the producers are happy that their franchise is making money, the writing team are happy that they keep getting to come up with original ideas, and the fans are happy that new and interesting films keep getting made as a result. Take that, modern cinema system!
So how does it compare to traditional cinema trilogies? Well it’s up there. The big contender is always the Godfather films, but they’re let down by Part III. Most trilogies suffer from their third entry being the weakest; it takes a lot for the 2nd film to be better than the first, let alone the 3rd to be better than both. Other examples of this include the Terminator films, the Naked Gun series, and funnily enough the Cornetto Trilogy – the World’s End is on balance the weakest of the three films, although it is still an excellent movie in it’s own right. The original Star Wars trilogy is at this point limbering up, and I’d also bring in another contender not everyone immediately thinks of – the Toy Story movies. Think about it. First one great, second one even better, the third one somehow the best of the three. Most people wouldn’t disagree if you claimed Lord of the Rings as the best movie trilogy ever either. But the beauty of the Cornetto Trilogy is that it does enough to warrant comparison alongside these titans of cinema, but does enough things differently to be impossible to rank in these ‘top 10’ lists that people love to do.
And this loose categorisation as a trilogy explains why the films themselves are so consistently excellent – they build a solid foundation before spinning off in directions you wouldn’t expect. You truly get the feeling that the writing team of director Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost genuinely enjoy what they’re doing, and make sure they tick enough boxes to keep the studio execs happy before allowing themselves to have some fun. And then lo and behold, people like it, because it assumes that the viewer has a brain and can laugh at things more than just lowest common denominator frat-boy humour and can digest a film that is sometimes a comedy, sometimes a character drama, and occasionally a roaring action movie. In many ways they are a celebration of nerd culture; they are tributes to the films the makers watched and loved growing up in small-town Britain, and the juxtaposition of quant British settings with these blockbuster tropes makes perfect sense. Indeed, Hot Fuzz was filmed in the small town Wright grew up in. They are at times wildly self-indulgent movies, but we don’t mind that because the amount of fun the makers had putting it together translates onto the screen effortlessly. And let’s be honest, any good geek likes to indulge themselves rather a lot; my walls are dominated by massive posters of cult films not many people have heard of (Whip It and Escape from New York, since you ask). So a geek recognises when one of their own is celebrating what they love. Pegg himself is quoted as saying ‘Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult.’ And if any sentences sum up the ethos behind the Cornetto films, it’s these.
And so with that we say farewell to the Cornetto Trilogy. Unless we don’t. Inevitably the suggestion of a fourth film has been thrown up, and the trio haven’t shot it down – although they wouldn’t mind doing something different. Wright certainly has potential. Frustratingly Scott Pilgrim Vs The World was a massive flop, but it was still an excellent film demonstrating that Wright’s writing (obvious pun is obvious) and directorial style can translate outside of British films featuring Pegg and Frost. The trio work fantastically together as a writing unit. But such a collective talent deserves to leave this trilogy behind and try new things. The happy memories of the Cornetto films will live on forever, and their legacy won’t ever wane. And in truth three films was pushing it – many people came out of the World’s End disappointed, only because of the massive expectations set by the first two. How the hell can a hypothetical fourth film match the previous three? All it can do is disappoint, surely? So the message is clear; either give us the single greatest Cornetto movie the world will ever see, or try something new altogether and leave the Cornetto Trilogy as a fabulous collection of films, a collective celebration of nerd culture which stay timelessly fresh and entertaining on repeated viewings.
On that note, I’ll bid you goodbye – I’m off to bid on an original Shaun of the Dead maxi poster and limited edition Nicholas Angel figurine.