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There's a great old (1986) "Saturday Night Live" sketch that depicts what might have happened after the last chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” in "It's a Wonderful Life." Doddering Uncle Billy remembers he accidentally handed the newspaper with the $8,000 deposit nestled inside to nasty Mr. Potter. The crowd, united in brotherhood at the Bailey house, transforms into a vigilante mob, storms Potter's office and basically beats him to death.
It's unlikely that the planned “It’s a Wonderful Life” sequel announced last month would have taken such a violent turn. But news of a new chapter irked some fans – until Paramount said it would fight efforts to basically beat to death the 1946 holiday classic.
So this year's Dec. 20th and Christmas Eve broadcasts of "It's a Wonderful Life" on NBC come with an unexpected extra holiday gift: We can watch without thinking the whole time about how a sequel might sully memories of a movie held dear.
Why, after all, continue a story with an all-too-rare perfect ending? Not that a finale has to be happy to approach cinematic perfection, as evidenced by the likes of “Gone With the Wind” (whose 1994 TV miniseries sequel didn’t set the world on fire) and “Casablanca” (another movie treasure being bandied about for a continuation).
It's worth noting Paramount, the studio that appears to have spared us an “It’s a Wonderful Life” sequel, paved the way this month for more “Indiana Jones” adventures. Paramount sold the distribution rights for the series to Disney, which got Indy when it bought George Lucas’ Lucasfilms empire for more than $4 billion last year.
Disney already has new “Star Wars” films in the works, sparking alternate feelings of dread and hope among hardcore fans still steamed over Lucas’ prequel trilogy.
Fan feelings might be even more complicated when it comes to Lucas’ collaboration with Steve Spielberg on “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The ultimate edge-of-your-seat popcorn flick is a rollicking tribute to the kind of old-school movie serials George Bailey would have taken the family to at the Bedford Falls Bijou (“Merry Christmas, movie house!”).
The 1981 favorite, like the cliffhangers of yesteryear, was built for new chapters. The third film, released in 1989, gave us an appropriate, riding-off-into-the-sunset ending with Indy (Harrison Ford) and his dad (Sean Connery). The fourth installment, introducing Shia LaBeouf as Indy’s secret, juvenile delinquent son, incited anger among some (the nuclear-blast-proof fridge?) and prompted an infamous “South Park” episode that accused Lucas and Spielberg of raping their creation.
It’s unclear what form an Indiana Jones revival might take (does 71-year-old Ford have another adventure left in him?). But like “Star Wars,” Indy may be in need of cinematic redemption after a disappointing ending five years ago.
Redemption is something George Bailey, who got to see what life would have been like without him, knows a bit about. With some help from Clarence, he learned not to mess with a good thing.
That’s a lesson that more filmmakers might want to take to heart – even if it means old man Potter doesn’t get what’s coming to him.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.