It wouldn’t be too much of a shock or surprise if you told me you didn’t know there was a sequel to American Graffiti.
It opened to no business in August 1979, and for George Lucas the film was an embarrassment, but it’s truly not a bad movie, and is a decent film in its own right. (You can now get both the original classic, and the sequel together on one DVD package.)
More American Graffiti wasn’t even available on VHS for many years, and the trailer for the video version claimed it was “one of the most requested titles in the MCA / Universal library.”
The film takes place during three different years on New Year’s Eve, and each segment of the film has a different look. Part of the film occurs during the Vietnam war, and it’s shot in 16mm, which is why those scenes look boxed in when you watch it. (Doing segments of a film in different formats was also redone years later in Steven Soderberg’s Traffic).
A major highlight of More American Graffiti is the camerawork, as it was shot by Caleb Deschanel, who was also the cinematographer of The Right Stuff, The Passion of the Christ, and the book end segments of Titanic with Gloria Stewart. (The rest of the film was shot by Russell Carpenter).
The look of the film is remarkable, especially the lighting in the concert segments, and the fact that Deschanel could make grainy 16mm look good next to his sharper, more vibrant work in 35mm.
More American Graffiti came seven years after the first film, and maybe it was too long between films to follow up. (As we reported previously on TG, the hilarious Star Wars Holiday Special was made to bridge the gap between Star Wars movies).
There wasn’t so much outrage that it didn’t live up to the first film, just general audience apathy. Sequels were also fairly new then, which is why Universal often put ALL NEW on their ad campaigns, because they thought audiences would think it would be the original movie with newer scenes.
Lucas reportedly wanted to do a darker and more complicated sequel to American Graffiti, much like Coppola made a darker, more complicated sequel with the second Godfather, and he later regretted the film going back and forth between years, which is a film structure audiences are more used to today.
But right after the failure of More American Graffiti, Lucas struck one out of the park with The Empire Strikes Back the following summer, and soon sequel mania would be in full swing.
Unfortunately, More American Graffiti couldn’t recapture the magic of the original, nor could it surpass the first like Empire did with Star Wars, but watching it today the movie is a respectable follow up, and a pretty decent film in its own right.