The Homage is Not Enough: on the Limits of Nostalgia-First Narratives

In the summer of 2016 everyone started telling me that I had to watch a show called Stranger Things. I was reluctant. The reluctance came from the way it was sold: the entire series was one large nostalgia fest for ‘80s Spielberg, Stephen King novels, and Dungeons and Dragons.

It’s not that I don’t like Stephen King or Indiana Jones or battling bugbears. But I had just finished consuming two pieces of media that banked heavily on nostalgia and ham-fisted homages: the show Mr. Robot and the novel Ready Player One.

ready-player-one-back-future
A poster for the upcoming Ready Player One, which this is not a review of.

I had walked away from both Mr. Robot and Ready Player One with a general uneasiness, a queasiness, the stomach ache that comes from too much of any one sweet thing. In the case of both of these, that one thing was the overdose of both

  1. knowing that I had consumed something whose originality was constantly undermined by heavy doses of allusion and homage and
  2. knowing that I had consumed something for which I, a heterosexual white millennial male with an English degree and a penchant for science fiction and a job in digital marketing, was the target demographic.

When I finally did watch Stranger Things, it did not disappoint me in the way that Mr. Robot and Ready Player One both had. Sure, the entire thing has major IT and The Body vibes and there was even a moment where a character is reading Stephen King’s Cujo. The entire thing is, as Stephen King himself said, crowded with Stephen King easter eggs and nods:

But there’s something different about Stranger Things. Something deeper. More tactful, subdued, and thoughtful.

(Stranger Things is not the only nostalgic work that works. FX’s Fargo, crowded with references to O. Henry and Samuel Beckett and, naturally, the Coen Brothers, is a good example of another show that executes where others fail.)

What is it that made Stranger Things work while Ready Player One and Mr. Robot both, in this blogger’s opinion, come up short? It’s a very fine line, but also a bell that, once crossed, is hard to unring, regardless of whom it tolls for. Continue reading “The Homage is Not Enough: on the Limits of Nostalgia-First Narratives”

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No Matter His Name (Or How Old He Gets), He’s Still Indy and They’re Not

Ever wondered what your grandpa would look like in a fedora? Well, Harrison Ford may give you a good idea. Believe it or not, another Indiana Jones movie is in the works, and, according to Steven Spielberg, there’s only one person who can carry the whip.

“I don’t think anyone could replace Harrison as Indy, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen,” Spielberg said in this interview. “There is only going to be one actor playing Indiana Jones and that’s Harrison Ford.”

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Pop Quiz: what’s Indiana Jones’s real first name?

While it remains to be seen what the new film will be about, what is clear is that no matter what happens, Indiana Jones has become a cinematic icon. Everybody knows him, and in the pantheon of movie characters, he’s got to be near the top. And as such, it comes as little surprise that over the years people have tried to capitalize on his likeness. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, these characters pretty much straight-up copied Indiana. Continue reading “No Matter His Name (Or How Old He Gets), He’s Still Indy and They’re Not”

Why Bale Should Reboot Jurassic Park

The rumors continue to mill regarding a new Jurassic Park movie.  Stephen Spielberg has officially announced that it’s happening, and the release of the trilogy on Blu-Ray has gotten people talking about it again, but there seems to be virtually no information available beyond that there will be another movie with “Jurassic Park” in the title, and that it will probably also have a “IV” in the title.  The other rumors include that Keira Knightley will be in it, that Sam Neil and/or Jeff Goldblum will be back, and that there might be some nonsense regarding genetically-created human-dinosaur-super-monster-soldiers, or that there will be a dinosaur-caused global epidemic or something.

Let’s be honest here: a fourth Jurassic Park movie is a terrible idea.  When was the last time you saw a fourth movie in a series that really worked. Before a fourth movie comes out, you have a trilogy.  Once a fourth film is tacked onto an original trilogy, you either have a new trilogy (as in the case of The Phantom Menace) or, far more often, you have the beginning of a franchise landslide.

Look at this guy. He clearly has better things to do than be in Jurassic Park IV.

Consider, for a moment, some of the fourth installments out there.  First of all, most of the times that a franchise reaches a fourth installment, it doesn’t stop.  It becomes a disaster, careening off the rails.  Usually, this fate is reserved for trashy horror franchises such as Halloween 4 (which was the fourth of eight), Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (followed by seven sequels), Saw 4 (which is 4 of 7 and apparently a midquel?), and Nightmare on Elm Street (I didn’t bother looking up how many there were.)

Continue reading “Why Bale Should Reboot Jurassic Park”

Bale vs. LaBeouf

You may not have noticed, but Shia LaBeouf (thank god this is written, not spoken, because I still have no idea how to say that name) seems to be challenging Bale’s status as the reboot king. Now, it only takes a cursory knowledge of cinema to know that if you planning on creating a sequel, remake, prequel, reboot, re-imagining, or a different take on a previously adapted novel, then Christian Bale should be your number one choice (see every other post on this blog for proof).

However, it seems that LaBeuof is trying to fashion himself into the younger, less-awesome Christian Bale. The poor man’s Bale, starring in half-assed LaBoof-Outs in imitation of Bale’s flawless Bale-Outs.

Let’s look at some recent examples:

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Oliver Stone? He made World Trade Center, right?

LaBeouf starred in the long-awaited Wall Street sequel… that is, if you can categorize a sequel as long-awaited when it gets the response “Well, I guess they might as well make a sequel to Wall Street, right?” In order to consider how this tepidly-received sequel could be improved, the answer is simple: Patrick Bateman. Seriously. American Psycho was a self-aware satire, in which Bateman murdered people while working at Pierce and Pierce,the same firm that Shermany McCoy worked at in Bonfire of the Vanities. In Money Never Sleeps, they gave a cameo to Charlie Sheen as Bud Fox from the original Wall Street. Also, Oliver Stone gave himself and his mother both cameos. Why not throw Bateman in there as one of Gordan Gekko’s jailmates? In reality, Bale has the integrity not to reprise the role of Bateman for a cheap cameo, as he refused to play Bateman in a cameo in Rules of Attraction, and those films were canonical with one another. What really should have happened is they should have cast Bale in LaBeouf’s role, or refused to make the film at all.

Disturbia, (2007)

Rear Window. One of the greatest films of all times, in nearly every top-100 list. Also one of the most parodied films of all times, from The Simpsons to That 70s Show to Head Over Heels to Rocko’s Modern Life to CSI to every other TV show that has decided to lazily do a Halloween episode and needed an easy plot line. It had also been previously re-made, in 1998’s Rear “We only made this movie to give Christopher Reeve something to do” Window. But what the LaBoif version brought to the table was… was… well, it sure didn’t have Christian Bale in it. The main thing it did was first establish Shia’s ability to be a poor man’s Bale.

Indiana Jones in The Worst Thing Ever, (2008)
This image says it all. Thank you, South Park..

Indiana Jones, aliens, and Shia LaBeef. Just imagine, for a moment, that there had been no aliens and no Even Stevens kid, and that there had been Christian Bale as a neo-Nazi attempting to get revenge for when Indy tricked his dad into drinking out of the false Holy Grail. Yep. That would have been better. Bale could have been a Nazi jewel thief trying to steal religious relics from a museum that Indy was curating, and it would have turned out better.

Get it? If you want to make an unnecessary sequel, remake, reboot, etc., you make a Bale-Out. There was absolutely no reason for 3:10 to Yuma to be re-made. But they did it anyway, and it’s one of the greatest films of the last ten years.

Stay tuned, as there will be upcoming, longer posts regarding how these three LaBeef failures could have been magnificent with Bale in Shia’s place.