Sometimes, people working in cinema seem to completely lose sight of what’s important about a piece of filmmaking. In this case, they’ve gone in totally blind.
There are certain films that will never, ever need a sequel. E.T., When Harry Met Sally, and Superbad (go with me on that one). There are also ones that should never have had one made, such as Donnie Darko, The Matrix (some would argue) and Cars 2. The thing about sequels is that frequently, the ones you can’t understand the point of are often written and made by people who had no real creative hand in the original and therefore don’t care about it as much.
So, when it came to someone suggesting a sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life, arguably one of the best films in cinema history and a testament to the fact Jimmy Stewart may have actually been the Second Coming, it was nice to see the world rise up against it. Sometimes, endless rehashing of old ideas just doesn’t slide.
This time, however, it wasn’t just the fans – Paramount themselves mounted an offence to put a stop to the sequel coming into existence. “No project relating to It’s A Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount,” they said. “To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”
Great. I mean, it doesn’t exactly read as “and we’ll never make one either,” but at least it’s fended off this ridiculous attempt at offering a “part two” to a film that doesn’t need one.
So, why was there such a big backlash towards a sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life? Well, for starters it’s worth actually taking a look at just why the film is so popular.
Firstly, the writing is brilliant. Every line is full of personality, you never see a character speak a line of dialogue that doesn’t somehow tie into the theme and build the back story, and of course, the acting is fantastic. It’s an example of how to do a Christmas film, but stretched over the span of multiple decades of someone’s life.
It also deals with the fight against frustration and depression in an era where big business is attacking independent outlets in a way that goes against a vanishing mom-and-pop mindset. It’s a film that would be spoiled by a sequel because it’s about the moment at which the protagonist is reeled back from the brink of deep, dangerous depression by a mystical being. The point of the film is that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. How do you carry that onwards?
It’s also worth noting that you’d be crafting a film that would attempt to match or even rank above its predecessor, as all sequels are wont to attempt to do. Very few succeed, and I’m not entirely sure how the people behind this were going to cast someone who would better Jimmy Stewart. His acting is legendary, and he’s a key reason why that film works so well – his ability to come across as an incredibly nice human being without having to act like one.
So who do you write about next? The protagonist’s grandchildren? Him again? I feel like the reason this sequel comes off as such a blatant cash-grab, because the film was designed around remembering the value of those who value you, at Christmas. I can’t imagine how you’d carry on from making a standalone point, unless you went with a different moral, and therefore could simply just write a film that stands apart from the original.
What I wouldn’t mind seeing would be a documentary on the film, and I’m curious as to why that wasn’t something that came up, given its inherent appeal to anyone who enjoys watching It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas. An insight into what makes a film great, rather than a cheap attempt to tack something else onto its single-moment timeline seems like a more constructive project for filmmakers. But not this. Never this. They’ll be making a sequel to Harvey next (don’t you dare).