Fans of James Cameron’s Avatar are expressing astonishment that its long-expected sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, will have taken thirteen years to get to theaters. That delay, of course, is nothing next to the 35 years that separated Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, or the 36 between Top Gun and Top Gun: Maverick, which comes out next month. But the recently announced sequel to This Is Spinal Tap tops them all: “Spinal Tap II will see Rob Reiner return as both film-maker on and off the screen along with Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest,” writes the Guardian‘s Benjamin Lee. “The film will be released in 2024 on the 1984 original’s 40th anniversary.”
Critics praised This Is Spinal Tap back in 1984, but it took time to become a revered classic of the improvised-mockumentary genre. In fact that genre hadn’t exist at all, which resulted in some viewers not quite getting the joke. “When the film first came out, we showed it in Dallas and people came up to me and said, why would you make a movie about a band nobody’s ever heard of?” says director Rob Reiner. “And one that’s so bad?”
Or as Christopher Guest remembers a couple girls at the concession counter observing: “These guys are so stupid.” The befuddlement extended even to collaborators in the filmmaking process: “I don’t understand this,” said cinematographer Peter Smokler, who’d worked on the Altamont documentary Gimme Shelter. “This isn’t funny. This is exactly what they do.”
Such reactions pay indirect but great tribute to the painstaking craft and observatory wit of Spinal Tap’s creators. Those creators — Reiner, Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer — tell these stories in the Today interview above, conducted in 2019 to mark This Is Spinal Tap‘s 35th anniversary. In that time they’d occasionally reunited as Spinal Tap for live performances and real albums, the last of which came out in 2009. Perhaps that’s kept them ready to get back into character, pitch-perfect English accents and all, and put on — as they’ll be forced to in a plot shaped by realistic-sounding music-industry vagaries — one last concert. But like any belated sequel, it brings proportionally inflated fan expectations: specifically, about whether they’ll be able to go up to twelve.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.