Menu

user avatar

Nostalgia: The Only Sure Thing in Hollywood

The Muppets is a funny and heartfelt love letter to the characters many of us grew up with. Jason Segel took his own affection for Kermit and the gang and developed it into not only a new Muppet movie, but a movie about how much we all love and miss the Muppets, and, more specifically, The Muppet Show. For a good portion of the viewing public, that was the beginning of their exposure to comedy, and presenting it in this way celebrates that specific memory. Of course kids now will like the movie — it’s adorable — but by its very nature it caters to the 25-40 year-olds who haven’t ever forgotten how it affected us.

I’m slowly approaching 30, and while I wasn’t around when The Muppet Show first aired, I have very vivid memories of it and the subsequent movies from reruns and Sunday afternoon TV.  It was my memory that truly made me love the new film. It’s this “remember the good ol’ days” attitude that has me pondering: Were the days really good or do we just like them because they’re ol’?

A few years ago, when such things were coming to DVD, I decided to re-watch some of my favorite cartoons from when I was a kid. I thought there was no way I wouldn’t enjoy the lot of them, and while things like Animaniacs and Freakazoid! still hold up (mostly due to good writing), things like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Darkwing Duck did not. It was sort of crushing that my memory cheated, or perhaps more accurately, my adult-brain didn’t appreciate them the same way my kid-brain did. It’s bound to happen upon getting older. Learning that the Turtles were not as perfect as I had remembered did not stop me from going to see TMNT, the CG-animated film from 2007. It wasn’t very good. What was I thinking would happen? That it’d be excellent? Had I totally forgotten how disappointing the 80s cartoon had been only a year earlier? Yes, I sure did. Even though I knew with the knowledge of a grown up that the thing I loved was a bit pants, my memory of watching it as a child is still a much stronger force.

In recent years, Hollywood has steadily foregone coming up with new ideas in favor of rebooting, remaking, rehashing, or sequelizing every property that has proven successful, essentially, ever. With the economy the way it is, the money people are far less likely to risk turning a profit on an untested product. It makes sense from a purely financial standpoint, but, really, the only reason this scheme of theirs works is because, like me with the Turtles, people will pay to see things they fear or expect to be bad as long as it’s based on a thing they loved. (Also, it doesn’t hurt that it’s much cheaper to remake a property they already own than it is to buy and develop a new one, but for the purposes of this argument, let’s pretend it’s just the nostalgia thing). They’re betting we’ll go see these movies and for the most part, they’re winning.

I guess this movie wasn't all bad...

It all depends on how much we love the thing to begin with. Hardly anyone (besides me who saw it for reviewing purposes) saw the abysmally awful Conan the Barbarian remake because nobody gives a shit about Conan if it’s not Schwarzenegger playing him. However, something like Tron had enough nostalgia and goodwill built up that nobody cared that its sequel 28 years later was a bit crap. This is how it works; It’s kind of genius in an irritating and money-grubbing way.

While I did love The Muppets and indeed a fair amount of these re-whatever-ed movies, I think Hollywood may have gone a bit too far. In the coming years, we have the following films to look forward to: The Fly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Godzilla, The Howling, Robocop, Ghostbusters, and even another live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There’s also, inexplicably, the reboot of the 2002 Spider-Man franchise and, yes, this is true, a planned reboot of Batman, despite the last film of Christopher Nolan’s story arc still being at the chemist. Can you have nostalgia for something that’s less than 10 years old? Hollywood’s betting you can.

We’ve known this for a while, but nerds rule. Who do you suppose is the target audience for these movies? It’s us. Nerds. We’re being baited and prodded in the very depth of our nerd being to go and see these movies. Whether they are good movies or not is irrelevant; what matters is that we go see them, and, by crikey, we are. If a million people go see the Buffy remake and all one million come out saying it sucked and sullied the good name of the franchise we all love so much, the studio will take our damning all the way to the bank. It’d be the biggest hit of all time. If someone right now said Back to the Future was being remade with Rob Pattinson as Marty and Kevin James as Doc Brown and instead of a DeLorean the time machine is a Toyota Prius, we’d all be outraged… but we’d still go see the thing.

This is the power of nostalgia; it can make people see a movie they fear or, deep down, know will suck. I realize I’m a cynic. While in my heart I think rebooting is a public menace, I’m aware that people, myself included, have really enjoyed, if not loved, the fruits of such menace. Some of these movies are good and, whether they OUGHT to be made or not, people can make something great out of a well-worn idea. Whether or not they’re seen as a money-grab, movies culled from our untainted childhood memories can be not only viable but exhilarating and endearing. Just look at The Muppets.

-Kanderson hopes a “Eureeka’s Castle” remake is in the cards. He’s weird. Follow him on TWITTER.

Tags , , , ,

10 comments

  • Dude, I’ve had the Eureeka’s Castle theme song in my head for a month. Nice!

    Also, thanks for saying what we’re all thinking. (Ditto about the 80s TMNT cartoon.)

  • “Hardly anyone (besides me who saw it for reviewing purposes) saw the abysmally awful Conan the Barbarian remake because nobody gives a shit about Conan if it’s not Schwarzenegger playing him.”

    Of all the reasons to blame Conan’s failure, you picked the fact that it didn’t star Schwarzenegger, and assumed that nobody would be interested in the character without him? As opposed to the atrocious marketing (Lionsgate recently fired its entire marketing team after a spate of flops – coincidence?), the fact that the film was abysmally awful due to a plethora of production and conceptual maladies, the fact that many theatres where shut on account of hurricane on its opening weekend…

    Conan as a brand clearly has legs. The comics have been one of Dark Horse’s big sellers, the Marvel reprints are still going strong, the Age of Conan game is still running where many have closed up shop, the original stories are still being printed across multiple publishers despite being 80 years old. If people really aren’t interested in Conan without Arnold, then why is Conan so successful without him in every other media?

  • This 40 something went to see “The Muppets” this last Saturday and I wasn’t the only kid-less adult in the audience. It was nostalgic with a capital N and the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time.

  • Since it wasn’t properly addressed: At least as far as the Muppet Show goes, it wasn’t just good because it was from the ol’ days. It is still brilliant, even with guest stars you don’t recognize and what are clearly social parodies that are 30 years obsolete. My 6 year old daughters love watching the Muppet Show just as much as I did at their age. That’s not colorblind nostalgia, that’s pure genius.

  • I don’t think Hollywood is catering to nerds and geeks (Scott Pilgrim, great movie though it is, proved that’s a limited market) as much as it’s trying to make nerds and geeks out of everyone, and by and large, they’re succeeding.

    I was really into comics in middle and high school (still would be if they weren’t so freaking expensive; also, storage concerns). Brand loyalty was easily curated, and there was a longtime joke that if Marvel wanted to kick up sales on a title one month, they’d put Wolverine on the cover (X-Force (I think it was X-Force) made a joke of this by putting Wolverine on the cover actually saying “I’m not even in this book!”, but sure enough, that issue sold many more copies than the series typically did).

    Somewhere in adapting all these comic book movies, Hollywood figured out the same thing. Sure, they had to get people in to see the first installment, but after that, everyone would just be like “welp, saw the first one, gotta finish it off!” They made this especially easy by promising everything would just be a trilogy, so your commitment was limited (which also explains the massive drop-off in the Pirates 4 box office; it’s as if everyone knew this one didn’t “count”).

    And then they realized they could make it even EASIER by making new installments of stuff you already liked, though apparently merely remembering something was enough to get many in their seats. And that’s the most terrifying part – people are going to see movies just because they remember something else with the same name. Worse, many people are giving a pass to these sorts of movies just because it’s nice to see characters they love back on the big screen.

    I think the worm is starting to turn, as reboots/remakes had a significant downturn at the box office this year (though established franchises are still going strong), and people figured out that, like Lee said, bad movies still kind of suck, no matter what they’re called. That doesn’t exactly mean they’re supporting original content as such, but I’m heartened by the performance of Bridesmaids, as well as several major, quality adult-oriented films at the end of last year (The Town, The Social Network, True Grit, Black Swan, etc.).