The Nostalgia Problem

 

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Lately, it feels as though the summer blockbuster season has been dominated mostly by two types of movies: superhero flicks, and remakes/reboots/sequels based on somewhat old movies. For the sake of simplicity, I’m just going to call them “nostalgia cash-grabs”.

However, as of late, I can’t help but notice that while superhero flicks are generally doing well bar the odd flop like Fantastic Four, nostalgia cash grabs are slipping a lot more. This year we’ve seen remakes and sequels like Ghostbusters and Independence Day 2 prove unsuccessful in terms of moneymaking. Before that, there were flops like Pan, Jem and the Holograms, and The Lone Ranger. While not all of these movies are necessarily bad in terms of quality, it’s clear they were made with the hopes of cashing in on people’s nostalgia.

People like to say that Hollywood is running out of ideas because it’s turning to old movies in order to make new movies. I personally would say this is not true. In fact, I dare say the fact that people always complain about movies being “so much better back in the day” is helping to contribute to the fact that Hollywood executives are convinced people just want newer versions of what they’ve seen before.

Oh, and let’s not forget that the older decades had some pretty bad pieces of shit movies too.

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When people argue films were better in the 90s, there’s a reason superhero movies never seem to come up.

  See, Hollywood executives believe, as always, that a “winning formula” can apply to any and every movie. Because executives who run businesses and make no art don’t seem to realise that creative industries don’t work like every other business, and what works for one movie might be disastrous for another.

See, the thing is, cashing in on Nostalgia can work. Pokemon Go is a pretty simplistic idea that is currently making Nintendo all of the money because it allowed people to experience their childhoods in a way they never have before. This worked for Nintendo and Game Freak, there’s no doubt about that.

But, as I say, just because it works for one thing, does not mean it is a universal winning formula. The main problem with this is simple: if your nostalgic cash grab is the same as the original, then there’s no point in its existence. But if it’s too different from the original, then it’s practically an insult.

Pokemon Go got around this by taking the original formula for pokemon but applying it to a different medium to the usual handheld Nintendo console, instead turning it into a real life pokemon catching simulator for your mobile. It was different enough to have worth in its existence, but similar enough that it is a part of the same franchise.

That’s not to say that successful nostalgia is limited to video games. Mad Max: Fury Road is a fantastic example of a reboot-y sequel to an old franchise. While a modest hit financially, it gained spectacular amounts of critical acclaim from critics and audiences alike. Unlike a lot of nostalgic cash grabs, Fury Road both kept to the spirit of the original, likely due to being made by the originals’ director, George Miller, but it also proved enjoyable to newer audiences too. Fury Road was the first Mad Max movie I’d ever seen, but it still ended up being one of my favourite movies of 2015.

So making a successful nostalgic movie is a possibility, but I feel the reason for their failures is simply because executives and directors don’t seem to acknowledge the obstacles that come with making a new version of an old franchise. Unless what you’re adapting sucked to begin with but had a good idea behind it, you can’t go in assuming everything’s going to be easy.

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Not that a good remake of a shit movie isn’t an option of course.

If you’re going to reboot a nostalgic movie, the first question you should ask yourself is simple: why? If the answer is “because a lot of people like the original”, then what you’re doing is likely gong to suck.

Your answer should be more along the lines of “because there’s more story to be told”, “because we can look at it from another angle”, “because we have a great opportunity to modernise it now”. This is the starting point, of course, since there’s far more too it than just “a reason to remake”. Some remakes that follow this reasoning don’t exactly turn out well. Robocop for example could have worked as a remake given a lot of the political satire the original covered can be applied to modern day politics like mass surveillance and drone warfare. But, most people have already forgotten the Robocop reboot.

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And it’s only been 2 years

The problem with reboots that fail to differ from the originals isn’t even just the fact that people already have the originals. Consider for a second how successful some of the movies people are remaking have been. And consider how many other works they’ve inspired.

Put it this way: Independence Day was one of the first major blockbusters focused on a massive alien invasion, and it was a huge hit. Now consider every single other alien invasion blockbuster we’ve seen since then. The formula has been done so much that when Independence Day 2 came out, it was just another movie following the formula. It didn’t have the same impact as its predecessor because it wasn’t released at a time when this shit was new and exciting.

The truth is, there are so many factors in terms of whether or not one should cash in on nostalgia, yet executives still believe nostalgia is enough of a selling point. Executives always want to go with the safe option, and thus, assume that a past hit MUST have potential to be a present hit too. But this is not true, because what worked in the past will not necessarily work in the future, and a past winning formula may have been done to death so much that nowadays it will likely fail.

And the sad thing is, there’s probably a good deal of old fizzled-out franchises that could actually benefit from being resurrected, if done correctly. But, either because they won’t get the well-made reboot they deserve, or because executives may likely soon wise up to the fact that nostalgia just isn’t enough to make a hit, such potential is not going to be achieved.

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