It doesn’t take much cultural awareness to know entertainment revolves around the adaption of things we love.
The biggest movie in America right now is “Ready Player One,” a film packed with nostalgic nods. Comic books serve as the fuel for the most consistent box office draws. It seems like studios announce new adaptions based on something from the eighties every week. We’re surrounded by material that draws from properties many grew up with, stories that we know and love, ranging from books to board games. As this content continues to proliferate the market, I’ve realized that there needs to be caution when dealing in nostalgia, both from a creator and consumer standpoint.
The new wave of retro storytelling largely falls into one of two categories. In one of them, nostalgia is used to emotionally hijack the audience long enough to make a quick buck. Things like the “Transformers” franchise, the latest attempt at reviving the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and the forthcoming “Willy Wonka” origin story fall into this category.
I’d put the entries in the new “Star Wars” trilogy under this description as well. These movies have shown little innovation, relying primarily on a cut and paste method that covers up a laziness and lack of good storytelling. The mindset behind studios in taking this approach is hoping people will turn out no matter what, negating the need for a fresh take.
I realize stories will inevitably borrow from other stories to some degree. One of the oldest human traditions is taking elements from well-known tales and reinterpreting them for a new audience. Some adaptions have done this well, less rip-off and more so homage. Homages are a kind of nostalgia that are usually self-aware and made by creators who understand the source material and want to tell stories with similar elements.
“Stranger Things,” the Marvel movies, and even “Ready Player One” fit this description. They aren’t simply stealing from old work, but instead trying to figure out what made these things great and create something new out of that. The success of these adaptions are a testament to the way audiences receive nostalgia when handled in this way.
Considering even quality nostalgic storytelling in the long run is somewhat concerning though. As a kid, my favorite movies were “Back to the Future” and “The Terminator.” I’d never seen anything like them before.
This originality helped them become so cemented in the collective consciousness of the public. These movies weaved their way into the very fabric of society to the point where quoting them became part of the vernacular.
But things like that don’t get made anymore. The knee jerk reaction is to just indulge in nostalgia, hoping that seeing The Rock in a video game adaption will fulfill that need for entertainment.
Thirty years from now, what will people look back on and be nostalgic for? Is there any new nostalgia being created today? Or will future entertainment just keep pointing people back to the eighties, that magical time when Spielberg and Lucas called the shots? While I’m incredibly excited to see whatever Marvel is going to do with their next movie, I wouldn’t mind an original blockbuster, independent of books or an old show. I might be asking for too much, but I’d love more films that come out of nowhere, blow me away, capture public interest and let me make more pop culture references in my conversations.
There’s a place for nostalgia in entertainment that won’t ever go away. I’ll confess that nothing can ever kill my secret desire to see a “Back to the Future: Part 4.” And a movie like “Ready Player One” makes for a good time.
But I also believe there might be something better out there. I’m waiting on a movie that’ll make me nostalgic for the early 2000s when 2050 rolls around.