OP-Ed: Letting Go of Nostalgia
Why Hollywood tends to repeat itself.
Happy National Repeat Day! There sure are a lot of unofficial “holidays” that have surfaced in the Internet age. Tomorrow (June 4th) is National Cheese Day. You have until July 28th to prepare for National Dance Day. And if you love pigs—too bad because National Pig Day was on March 1st. My point is that we–citizens of the Internet age tend to unite for all sorts of reasons and passions.
The evolution of Hollywood filmmaking is clear evidence of this as well. Marvel’s “dabbling” in the film industry has elevated the studio to one of the biggest there is. And Infinity War is proof that stuffing nearly two movies a year into a ten-year span can work if a demographic is there. And, oh boy, is the demographic there. Is there anything wrong with Marvel’s strategy? No, not unless you are against the damage that Hollywood blockbusters have done to independent and international cinema. In a time when ticket sales are lower than ever, studios are clinging onto whatever work. And who can blame them? But, conversely, one might argue that ticket sales are at this all-time low because filmgoers are exhausted by the number of remakes and never-ending series—we’re getting close to The Fast and The Furious 10, folks.
And what about movies that reuse tried-and-true formulas? Let’s take a look, briefly, at a few upcoming projects. Disney has excelled in animation, but there was a time when their live-action movies didn’t live up to the same standard. This is until we started to see live-action adaptations of Disney animated movies. Maybe it started with Ever After (1998). This led to Enchanted (2007), and then to Maleficent (2014). These were “okay” films. Maleficent, in particular, seemed created to act as foil to the trope of these “adult fairy-tales,” of which you might even include movies like Twilight. That alone made it interesting. But, now, the door to these live-action remakes is wide open: Cinderella (2015) and Beauty and the Beast (2017) came out shortly after the success of Maleficent and there are a whole slew of new adaptations slated on the horizon. Mulan, The Lion King, and Aladdin have all been announced or rumored.
Disney is far from the first to attempt remaking their once profitable properties. Have you noticed, like I have, that many of our most beloved childhood characters have been butchered in cheaply made films meant to cash in on their reputations? Alvin and his Chipmunks, The Smurfs, and Peter Rabbit have all fallen victim to cash-grabs. Although sometimes marching out these re-treads actually works. How is it that we have not one good Paddington film, but two? It helps if you have a team of super-talented filmmakers, who happen to love the source material behind the project. And the upcoming Christopher Robin (2018) looks like an interesting return to youthful innocence through an adult version of the titular character. Even a bad formula can be turned into something positive.
On the other hand, Star Wars is kind of being shoved down our throats at this point. The Last Jedi (2017) was enjoyable (despite not being a masterpiece by any means), but there was a large backlash by the fan base. Solo: A Star Wars Story is “okay,” but that’s about the best that can be said about it. These movies aren’t “failures,”—The Last Jedi, at least, was extremely lucrative.
This is, in part, because these movies bring the same fans back to the theater again and again. But even when they don’t work, their intense marketing campaigns make them impossible to ignore. Just like how it’s impossible to tell someone who loves Apple that Microsoft Windows is better, or vise-versa, cinema too has divided into separate “cults.” The cult of Star Wars. The Cult of the MCU or DCEU. Heck, even Minions has a cult. Even when most people decide they are no longer interested in one remake, or tired trope, or the next entry in a series, there will be a select group of fans who will continue to watch and love these movies. Perhaps I am a jaded older-millennial who cannot buy into something like Minions—hey, I hate getting the same ice cream every time I go to the parlour, too. So who am I to deprive filmgoers of the movies they love? Film is subjective, after all.
This subjectivity brings me around to my original point. We decide if we want to revisit the past. Studios know this. They know if one film works, another film like it will also probably work. I personally loved The Jungle Book (2016), even though it was the result of this “remake culture.” We cannot shake off the familiar. We dislike the unknown. We love to repeat, to relive. We re-watch our favourite films; why not watch a different film with the same idea?
So, on National Repeat Day, I stress that you can enjoy your favourite kinds of films whenever you wish. Just be aware that Hollywood is aware of this too, and it is most certainly affecting the industry and the kind of movies that are being made. And whether you think that is a good thing or a bad thing, let’s all recognize that it’s happening.