With a new cartridge loaded into our Halina Super 8 cine camera, my sister and I once made a short film about four children who fly to the moon in a home-made spaceship (consisting of a ZX Spectrum resting on an upturned laundry basket, housed inside a small shed in Watford). Like budding Paul Whitehouses we played two characters each. My sister played Vicki and Karen (one, a chilled out hippy type, the other, a pigtailed saboteur with some kind of sneezing allergy), and I played McKell (key character trait: to exude effortless cool like Officer Carey Mahoney) and Philippe (the brains behind the lunar rocket, with a name that made him sound like a flamboyant, French hairdresser).
Instead of being a film about invention and childhood adventure, it ended up being a tale about the importance of story-boarding and forward-planning. Because after wasting most of the film stock silently gurning our way through the main set-up, we then had to hurriedly cobble together a finale, which we presented via title card with only seconds of tape left to spare: “They blasted off and weren’t seen again for two months. They came back with joy.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, no sequel was ever made. In spite of the title card hinting that our 11-year-old heroes offered a stranded septuagenarian a lift back to earth, we didn’t find out what happened in that two-month period. Did the ZX Spectrum suddenly become sentient, switching from failing to load Manic Miner to trying to murder the spaceship’s crew? Did Joy take a bag of Humbugs with her for the 238,857-mile journey home? We will never know. But maybe it’s better that way.
I’m not anti-sequel (my enduring love for Aliens and the number of times I’ve seen Terminator 2: Judgement Day is testimony to that fact) but I do think that some films should be immune from the sequel treatment. John Hughes was apparently keen to do a Breakfast Club sequel that would have caught up with the characters 10 years after the original film. With production due to start in 1994 – so the actors would have aged naturally – the project thankfully never got off the ground due to Judd Nelson’s unresolved spat with Hughes at the time.
Last year, Matthew Broderick starred in a Ferris Bueller-inspired Super Bowl ad for Honda, which saw him calling his agent to pull a sicky before heading off for a day of fun in the city. The advert mimicked several famous scenes from the original film, but featured Broderick driving around in a Honda CR-V instead of a ‘borrowed’ 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder. The advert, chucklesome though it was, acted as a powerful reminder that some sequels – especially those a quarter of a century or more in the making – should be ruthlessly put down at the development stage. No one with a genuine love of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would have wanted to see a feature-length sequel in which a 50-year-old Ferris tries to escape the misery of the rat race in a compact SUV.
Imagine catching up with Broderick’s David Lightman character from WarGames only to discover that, instead of becoming the world’s foremost hacker, lurking in the shadowy upper echelons of Anonymous, he’s now a world-weary web designer living under the oppressive thumb of his demanding, web-illiterate clients. It would be a sequel full of misery and disappointment (similar to the actual [straight-to-DVD] sequel, WarGames: The Dead Code).
Only last week, I was alarmed to read that a sequel to my favourite film – Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life – was in the pipeline. With a Ronseal working title of It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, the basic premise borrows heavily from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and places George Bailey’s mean-spirited shit of a grandson at the centre of events. He’s subsequently visited by his aunt Zuzu (now an angel) who shows him how much better off the world would have been had he never been born. Hummingbird Productions, the company behind this horrifying prospect, hopes to bring the sequel to the big screen in December 2015.
(I should point out that I’m not acknowledging the 1990 TV movie Clarence as a sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life, as it was described as more of a spin-off. Also, the writers concocted some bullshit about angels getting younger over time in order to explain why the role of Clarence Oddbody was being played by 35-year-old Revenge of the Nerds star Robert Carradine, having been played by 72-year-old Henry Travers in 1946 – which is rubbish enough to sound like something my sister and I might have written.)
Watching It’s a Wonderful Life has always been a solitary experience for me, mainly because I’m unable to get through it without crying constantly. I well up when Mary, as a young girl, leans into George’s deaf ear and whispers: “George Bailey, I’ll love you till the day I die.” I weep when Mr Gower, grief-stricken and drunk after learning of his son’s death, hits that same bad ear and makes it bleed. I go to pieces when George angrily tries to deny his love for Mary when they’re sharing the phone to speak with Sam Wainwright (and for my money, that’s still the hottest scene in cinema history). And from the moment George’s despair manifests itself in a physical outburst in front of Mary and the children on Christmas Eve, to the moment the bell tinkles on the Christmas tree to signal that Clarence has been awarded his angel wings, I’m hopelessly engulfed in a torrent of snot and tears.
I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve beaten to death over the years for daring to suggest that It’s a Wonderful Life is nothing but a schmaltzy Christmas puke-fest. The hopelessness etched on George Bailey’s face, as he stares, wild-eyed, into the icy waters of Bedford Falls’ swollen river, just doesn’t correspond with that simplistic viewpoint. It’s the greatest film ever made, and tells a story that will endure for all time. It cannot be re-made and it should never be given a sequel.
I’m relieved to hear that Paramount Studios have since threatened to take legal action over the proposed sequel, asserting that no project can proceed without the necessary rights, which are owned by the studio. So I now find myself in the unusual position of rooting for a corporate behemoth in the fight against a completely unnecessary sequel. Even Frank Capra’s son, Tom, told the Associated Press that if his father was still alive, he would have deemed the sequel “ludicrous”.
Treasured films should have preservation orders slapped on them, like knobbly ancient trees rooted at the heart of our communities. They are not – I repeat, not – to be fucked with.