Is it time to let go of the nostalgia remake?
HAVE WE REACHED THE END OF THE NOSTALGIC REMAKE?
THE PHENOMENON OF THE 20-YEAR REBOOT CYCLE IS A WELL-KNOWN POP CULTURAL DRIVER.
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.