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Deja View: Nostalgia strikes back

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Have a look at the roster of upcoming movie releases and you might start to think you drove your Delorean too fast and ended up in the past. New Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, Predator, Alien, Blade Runner and Star Wars films are all in production.

In Back to the Future’s version of 2015, Hill Valley jokingly showed us the future with Jaws 19 showing at the local Holomax but the reality is a little bit different. Gone are the days of never ending sequels such as Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and in its place come franchise revival.

Studios have been investing in reboots and find themselves vindicated as audiences have been flocking to see them. Looking at the top ten grossing films of 2015 (worldwide) only two films can be considered ‘original’ films (not a sequel or remake) with the top two, most successful ones (Jurassic World and Star Wars) representing the increasing trend to revive older franchises.

There has been an awakening

The first line of the Force Awakens teaser trailer is ‘there has been an awakening ‘and in many senses that’s literally true, Star Wars had been a sleeping giant with the series in post prequel decline. The Jurassic Park films had also flatlined due to subpar sequels and a long period of development hell.

The recent reboots were a bolt of life saving electricity delivered by younger directors who experienced the originals when they came out years ago. They have imprinted a relatable and nostalgic view of new narratives. The reason that Jurassic World and Force Awakens work so well is that they concentrate not just on revival but also reinvention.

“The story of history repeating itself was - I believe - an obvious and intentional thing” JJ Abrams

“The story of history repeating itself was – I believe – an obvious and intentional thing” JJ Abrams

When making Jurassic World, Colin Trevorrow said in an interview “I grew up on these movies. So did you, and so did a lot of us. We have a certain love for this stuff that is unique in our generation. And I recognize that” and his thoughts reflect the need for a reverence of origins.

The originals are now in a sense ‘owned’, absorbed by audiences and by popular culture and filmmakers need to respect and understand the imbedded history. In both Jurassic World and Force Awakens the iconography and motifs of the originals become a subconscious short cut to history and help to build a world that audiences believe fits as a continuation of one story. This is why we revel when we see Jurassic Park logos, references to John Hammond in Jurassic World as well as Finn finding the training remote on the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars. Even the trailers for both films used musical motifs from the originals, instantly recognisable and intrinsically linked references. However, the key is in having this power and knowing how to use it at the right moments, delivering us a subconscious blast of history.

“my biggest fear going into this was it was going to be fan fiction; that it was going to be some kind of carbon copy of this thing that I love. If anybody wants to insult me or make me feel terrible, they'll say ,"It's just a giant rip-off of Jurassic Park” Colin Trevorrow

“my biggest fear going into this was it was going to be fan fiction; that it was going to be some kind of carbon copy of this thing that I love. If anybody wants to insult me or make me feel terrible, they’ll say ,”It’s just a giant rip-off of Jurassic Park” Colin Trevorrow

 

So history is important but the key is balance. Audiences don’t want a shot for shot remake but want to see new characters and situations, as JJ Abrams puts it to embrace “the history that we all know to tell a story that is new; to go backwards to go forwards“.  The nostalgia needs to be a driver for a new story and a new experience as a continuation of the narrative. If old characters are going to return writers need to anticipate how they would react in new situations but there also needs to fresh ideas and new situations for us all to explore. Boundaries need to be pushed and expectations toyed with.

I’ll Be Back

“there was a very wary fanbase from the first two movies saying, ‘Wait, we kind of hated the last two, so what are you trying to give us?” Alan Taylor

“there was a very wary fanbase from the first two movies saying, ‘Wait, we kind of hated the last two, so what are you trying to give us?” Alan Taylor

Sometimes that balance can be tipped the other way when nostalgia can work against you. There are plenty of examples of reboots that have not quite hit the mark (Crystal Skull anyone?) but there is a standout from 2015, Terminator Genisys. On the surface it seems director Alan Taylor took the right approach, studying the first two Terminator movies and using “that vocabulary in the movie, and beyond that it’s a very different story.” 

Of course there are a number of reasons why a film might flop but arguably Genisys pushed both reinvention and nostalgia to extremes. It recalled too much from previous instalments, often directly repeating shots from the older films which made it seem more like a ‘best of’ than a new narrative. It also misunderstood expectations with fans annoyed at the choice of villain.

JJ Abrams pointed out with Force Awakens “I knew that, whatever we did, there would be a group of people – and I was just hoping and praying that it would be smaller than not – that would take issue with any number of things”. Film fans are now more mobilised than ever, twitter as a platform has empowered opinion and often when reinvention of a classic goes too far in the fans eyes there is usually a twitter storm. The recent response to news that the Ghostbusters reboot would focus on female leads and the release of the trailer prompted some backlash as it was a little too different from the original.

Fan opinion is a double edged sword for the reboot. Fans expectations and opinions have to be respected and considered, after all these are the people that have championed the success of the originals. However, this should not always be at the expense of pushing boundaries and bringing fresh perspectives. These reboots like the originals before them will also be for a new audience to experience and enjoy.

The Next Chapter

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The revival of loved film franchises can be a winner for all, It can fulfil the audiences hunger for more, get new audiences as well as being a boon for the studios themselves. There is a balancing act, a sweet spot between these existing and new audiences. People feel they own a film after they have experienced and enjoyed it, in a world where we define ourselves by our ‘likes’ on social media profiles and align directly with what we enjoy, audiences become custodians of classics. Nostalgia magnifies this.

These audiences’ expectations need to be respected as does the film history that comes before a new chapter but not to the expense of a new experience. We all want to see new characters and worlds and there lies the secret, the ability to use nostalgia to further a new story.

Do you think the next batch of reboots/sequels will find the balance? Which are you most looking forward to? Comment below would be excellent to see your opinion.

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