Is it time to let go of the nos­tal­gia re­make?


National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - CHRIS KNIGHT Na­tional Post


Walk into a movie theatre to­day, and you might think you’d been tele­ported back in time 20 years. There’s a Trainspot­ting movie, Beauty and the Beast, Power Rangers and Ghost in the Shell. Flat­lin­ers is com­ing soon. And this Christ­mas, Ju­manji!

Every­where you look it’s the ’90s all over again.

This was largely fore­see­able. Late in the 2010s is ex­actly the point at which we can be ex­pected to hit peak ’90s nos­tal­gia. It will con­tinue to trickle on, well into the next decade.

Sim­i­larly, the 2000s and early 2010s gave us re­makes, re­boots and se­quels to such beloved ’80s hits as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Mi­ami Vice, Hair­spray, Clash of the Ti­tans, Arthur, The A-Team, The Karate Kid, Foot­loose, The Thing, and many, many more.

A few more are still in the works — De­nis Vil­leneuve’s Blade Run­ner 2049 picks up from the 1982 orig­i­nal, af­ter which he’ll turn his at­ten­tion to Dune, last seen on the screen in 1984.

The phe­nom­e­non of the 20-year re­boot cy­cle is a well­known pop cul­tural driver. We grow nos­tal­gic for the good old days, and seek to re­make them as art. On tele­vi­sion, the ’90s gave us That ’70s Show; the ’80s had Lav­erne & Shirley, set in the ’60s and spun off from Happy Days, which ran in the ’70s but was set in the ’50s. And the ’60s bizarrely gave us Ho­gan’s He­roes, set in a Ger­man POW camp in the ’40s. Ah, those were the days. The ’90s re­make train isn’t slow­ing down, ei­ther. Re­turn­ing this year and next are such 20-year-old clas­sics (I’m us­ing that term loosely) as Bay­watch, Stephen King’s It, The Mummy and Dis­ney’s Mu­lan.

Yet for any­one tired of Hol­ly­wood re­cy­cling the same old prop­er­ties, there is rea­son for hope. 2020 and be­yond may her­ald the end of the nos­tal­gic re­make. The rea­son is sim­ple: When it comes to movies, they DO make them like they used to.

Con­sider Juras­sic Park. The orig­i­nal was re­leased in 1993, and fea­tured then-cut­ting-edge dig­i­tal ef­fects as well as older tech­niques like an­i­ma­tronic di­nosaur heads. When Juras­sic World came out in 2015, the dig­i­tal ef­fects were al­ready old­school, and the an­i­ma­tron­ics were used as a nos­tal­gic tip of the hat to the first movie.

But even the first Juras­sic Park still holds up nicely in the ef­fects depart­ment. The dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion swept through cin­ema in the 1990s, chang­ing the way movies were made, but noth­ing has sup­planted it since. (No, 3D doesn’t count.)

The same is even truer of pop­u­lar turn-of-the-cen­tury films, which his­tory would sug­gest are near­ing their re­make date. What would be the point of a new Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon, Gla­di­a­tor or Me­mento? Re­cent news of a pos­si­ble Ma­trix re­make (the stu­dio has since clar­i­fied that it’s likely to be more of a spinoff ) was greeted with more con­fu­sion than ex­cite­ment: Why bother?

Sim­i­larly, news of a Lord of the Rings re­make sounded like a joke — be­cause it was. (A biopic of Rings au­thor J.R.R. Tolkien is in the works, but that’s a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of orcs.) Even Dis­ney’s live-ac­tion re­make jug­ger­naut will prob­a­bly stall once it hits the new cen­tury — com­put­eran­i­mated movies like Tan­gled and Frozen look prac­ti­cally alive al­ready.

And so we face the pos­si­bil­ity of a decade free of early-cen­tury re­makes. Which doesn’t mean we’ll be free of re­makes en­tirely. Film­mak­ers can con­tinue plun­der­ing the dregs of ear­lier decades’ pop cul­ture (CHiPS II, any­one?) and adding to ex­ist­ing fran­chises like the 14-year-old Pi­rates of the Caribbean saga or the never-end­ing story of James Bond.

There is also the su­per­hero-fran­chise ma­chine, which pre­cludes the need for big-bud­get re­makes of 20-year-old movies by never giv­ing the se­ries a chance to get that old in the first place; wit­ness the end­less stream of Iron Man/Hulk/Thor/Avengers movies since 2008. And then there’s Spi­der-Man, made in 2002, re­made in 2012, re­launched this year af­ter an ex­tended cameo in Civil War, and com­ing in ’18 as an an­i­mated movie. It’s hard to have a come­back when you’ve never re­ally left.

True, the fu­ture of cin­ema could bring some new tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion that will have film­mak­ers scram­bling to re­make older movies. Vir­tual re­al­ity seems the like­li­est bet, but ex­per­i­ments to date sug­gest it’s bet­ter as an add-on (like the three-minute Wild — The Ex­pe­ri­ence, based on the 2014 movie) than a for­mat for feature films.

All of which means that for fans of 21st-cen­tury cin­ema — Don­nie Darko, Watch­men, Avatar, Harry Pot­ter, Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind, etc. — the only way to en­joy movies again will be the method used by a much older gen­er­a­tion of film­goer: just watch them again.

They’re as good as they’re go­ing to get.


Clock­wise from top left: the Power Rangers from their 1997 movie Turbo; the Lionsgate re­make; Kevin Kline and Emma Wat­son in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast; the pop­u­lar Dis­ney an­i­mated ver­sion of Beauty and the Beast.


Ryan Gosling, left, in the up­com­ing film Blade Run­ner 2049, and Har­ri­son Ford as Deckard in the 1982 film.


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