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It’s all about connecting with the past and it has an always present, and seemingly endless, life-cycle. Insert decade and endless throwbacks here. Find a classic film, get a big studio to remake it with new actors and shiny effects. Take a cult science fiction movie, turn it into a TV series etc.
It makes good business sense.
I know because I am the demographic.
Born in the 70s, a child of the 80s a lot of the references I hark back to in reviewing content are based on my experience growing up. I’m a dad, I’ve got a young son that I want to bond with over things like movies, sport, video games and all that good father-son stuff. I draw on my childhood in an attempt to connect and am excited and happy when I see his delight at the music I listen to (like Iron Maiden) or the things I watch, (like Star Wars). I feel like I’m more engaged as a parent because I’m still a big fat kid myself.
There seems to be a vast difference between myself and my parents (i.e. parents of the 80s). That’s not a slight on you guys, you did a great job ok. We made it, most of us still with all our fingers and toes.
Please put your pitchforks and torches away.
Netflix’s Stranger Things illustrates a perfect, albeit exaggerated, example of 80’s parenting. There’s a massive disconnect with the kids and parents on that show and it resonated a lot with us 80s kids. We had a lot of time where we were left to our own devices (that weren’t smartphones) and our imaginations were given enough room to run away. We were off independently playing in the street, back home when the streetlights came on etc.
Stranger Things as a show is also an example of retro done right. It has enough references from a bygone era, it’s done with the right amount of tact to warm the nostalgic hearts of older audiences and they blend it perfectly with original and exciting storytelling that engages everyone. Although in saying ‘new and original’ I’m sure that there’s someone who’ll read this and find an example of where it’s been done before.
These days everything is a remix, even a lot of seemingly new ideas are a combination of old and successful formulas. Some of these formulas are even remixed into something that is entirely original and better. There’s a whole series about this. You should google “Everything is a Remix” and watch the videos if you haven’t already. In many ways this monologue is a remix some of the opinions I formed from watching that.
John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of the 1950’s horror film The Thing is probably one of my favourite horror films and it has dated incredibly well. The reimagined Battlestar Galactica is possibly my favourite science fiction series of all time and Westworld, as you would have seen from my previous glowing review, is creeping up on BSG.
Remakes of Star Trek are appealing to a new audience and attempting to continue a legacy that has stood the test of time and attracted legions of followers. However, in dumbing down some of the science they’ve isolated some of the more die-hard fans. A trekkie friend recently pointed out to me the absurdity of the Enterprise being constructed on earth as opposed to in space like in the originals and how much thrust would be required to launch; I just laughed and gave him a wedgie. But on closer reflection these new movies do seem more action than real science fiction.
80s retro is everywhere, from Netflix’s GLOW through to the promotion of recent comic book films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor Ragnarok. While not necessarily set in the era, the previews for Thor are saturated with 80s adornment.
While comics had their heyday through the 70’s and 80’s comic book films are a license to print money for studios. I have to wonder how much more of the superheroes I can take. The formula for these films is so predictable and only the costumes really change. My criticism comes from an entertainment and enjoyment perspective as opposed to economical. As long as they’re selling tickets and the billions of associated merchandise opportunities, we’re stuck with them. In spite of my better judgement I’ll still indulge.
The people that grew up though the 80’s are now in their 40’s. Most have a respectable disposable income, some are coping with their mid-life crisis, all ready and willing to shell out money to be reminded of their heyday. Also, a lot of us want to connect with the younger generation, our kids.
Retro provides us with that conduit. It’s a pipeline from our past to our future, the kids.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing in that regard. Nothing is more endearing, and possibly ridiculous than a grown man wearing a Hulk onesie while his son chases him around in his Captain America pyjamas and mum rolls her eyes in the background. Or deciding to share your action figures with by actually taking them out of the box and letting your son enjoy them as opposed to thinking about how much they might be worth one day.
In writing this article I’m dangerously close to convincing myself that continuing to go back over old ground is a truly wonderful thing.
So what’s the problem?
Well, for starters, there’s the remakes and re-imaginings of movies that are timeless and don’t really require a second pass.
Why the fuck did they feel the need to remake Total Recall? Or Robocop? Or even Evil Dead?
Because it is incredibly low risk. In using an established brand, an already tried and tested idea, they’re pretty much guaranteed to do ok on opening weekend. If it does suck and all goes to shit it doesn’t really have a long term effect on said brand.
Look at Ghostbusters. The reimagining of Ghostbusters was a massive pile of shit. Before you start, it had nothing to do with anything else except the fact it was a bad film. It still performed ok at the box office, the original Ghostbusters legacy is still fine and this indiscretion is easily moved on from.
What’s the REAL problem then?
You can absolutely have too much of a good thing. It places creativity in a comfort zone, it is the foot pushing on the head of an original idea trying to clamber out of the pool that is being drowned in a sea of mediocrity. It closes minds and handicaps those who are working to bring something original to us, the consumer. It’s why most of the good ideas happen off Hollywood and then Hollywood finds out, throws a fucktonne of cash at it, and nearly always dumbs it down.
Remember that awesome Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In? Hollywood bought that, dumbed down the title to ‘Let Me In’, basically recreated it shot for shot with English speaking characters and siphoned the soul right out of the story. Heaven forbid you have to read a subtitle or have an understanding of vampiric lore and actually get what the original title means!
What can I do?
By all means, get into the retro stuff. Love it, share it, but don’t live in the past. Look for new shit, seek out and new ideas, and for fuck’s sake encourage your kids to think for themselves. Be present but give them the chance to have their own imaginings without beating them over the head with what things were like in your day.
Your day is currently the big comfortable trend in Hollywood and aside from the odd flash of brilliance it’s getting to be boring as fuck.
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