It’s A Wonderful Life and the problem with movie sequels

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As Hollywood prepares to make a follow-up to It’s a Wonderful Life, why movies aren’t suited to sequels.

Is nothing sacred? Surely, The Family Man was enough. First, they dragged Indiana Jones’s corpse out for another run and now James Stewart’s long-lifeless body is being exhumed for another squeezing – a sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life. Not a remake – a sequel. Apparently, the first suicide attempt wasn’t quite enough for George Bailey. The abstract ‘they’ in that sentence are financier Allan Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, “an icon in the ad music industry.” Apparently the two artistic celestials, upon finding out about the expiration of the 1946 classic’s copyright, got some shovels, headed to Forest Lawn Memorial Park and started digging.

A sequel is by no means a bad thing. The franchise works well, especially if they’re made for that – one story told in several parts

That said, appropriate amounts of shame have never been high on the movie industry’s list of company ethics. All credit to them, there’s nothing like a sure thing and the movie business is a business. It says it, right there in the title. We can give them Fast and Furious 15. A sequel is by no means a bad thing. In fact, the film franchise works very well, especially if they are made for that – one story told in several parts. Contriving an extension to the original is, however, rather shameless. Let the dead rest, for God’s sake.

Cinema is good for statements, short sharp ones, and it’s a medium that finds it hard to deal artistically with any extension of that; the wonderful thing about stories is their finity. They begin and end, making a point and then dying. Whatever you may have heard, a sequel can necessarily ruin the original – it unravels its conclusions and dilutes its convictions. Once a story becomes about everything, by necessity it becomes about nothing.

the two jakes

We can talk about The Two Jakes which, if anyone had seen it, would really fuck with Roman Polanski’s original, Chinatown. Point being, we are not following the life of JJ Gittes, we are hearing the story of how the cynical and powerful in  Los Angeles crushed him at his first attempt to do something pure with his sleazy, self-serving and miserable existence. “Come on Jake, its  Chinatown,” loses all meaning. In the same year as The Two Jakes, The Godfather Part III was released. While probably an earnest attempt at a sequel, it still fundamentally changed the outlook of the original two – these are films about a man corrupted by the responsibilities and conflicts of family and power.

Film is not the nearly continuity-less medium of the sitcom. That’s just the nature of the beast

As a representation of the obnoxious greed of the 1980s, Gordon Gekko was never supposed to be redeemed (as Oliver Stone tried to do in Wall Street sequel Money Never Sleeps). Perhaps the best example is the Alien films; the point is, Alien was more than Ripley, her cat or H.R. Giger’s monster and it certainly wasn’t Predator – the central idea was horrific, more horrific than each of its individual parts.

We can extend it other forms. The greatest pieces of television in recent memory, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, were only quite as wonderful because of exactly that fact. They were centred around clear, definable questions which had to, at some point, be answered. Jack Bauer should have died a long time ago. But then again, the only question that 24 ever asked is: “Can Jack Bauer kill the terrorists?” What a film is not is the nearly continuity-less medium of the sitcom, where the only point is a series of stories that riff on the eternally unresolved and emotionally-crippling flaws of the characters. The characters never really learn a thing into and beyond the 55th season of The Big Bang Theory. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just the nature of the beast.

wall street money never sleeps

You might not remember them, but film history is littered with the discarded direct–to–video embarrassments that probably continue to haunt the dreams of their producers. Van Wilder: Freshman Y ear is a chilling reminder of that fact.

Undoubtedly, there are also sequels that can improve the original, but they are far rarer. Paramount are currently marshalling their legal team to face these two peons, but if Frank Capra’s classic is to go the way of American Pie, I can’t help but wonder what a sequel to the 1946 masterpiece would look like. I can only wait.

Coming soon to cinemas or, failing that, YouTube:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Hawaiian Vacation

It’s a Wonderful Life: Clarence’s Revenge

It’s a Wonderful Life vs The Santa Clause: Zuzu’s Revenge

It’s a Wonderful Life Saves Kwanzaa: Potter’s Revenge

It’s a Wonderful Five: Adventures Through Time

 

Featured image: RKO Radio Pictures

Inset images: Paramount; 20th Century Fox

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