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.

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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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Some Thoughts and Observations That Won’t Appear in My Next Blog Post

Sometimes, I don’t want to dedicate a full blog post to an idea, but I still want to share the idea.

Is 2016 the Year of the Feral Child?

First, a fun and simple Jungle Book, which served as both a new adaptation of Kipling and a remake of the classic Disney cartoon. Then, a new Tarzan film. Soon, a remake of Pete’s Dragon, in which apparently Pete is a feral child raised by a dragon. Oh, also, Stranger Things and Eleven, its take on the feral ’80s child.

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Why all these narratives suddenly? And does it mean that we will get even more in the coming years? Perhaps a reboot of George of the Jungle? Perhaps a biopic of Victor of Aveyron? Or will we see feral children shoehorned into other narratives, like the Justice League or the Marvel films?

It was hard to tell the difference between the RNC and The Purge: Election Year

The Purge movies aren’t perfect, but they’re a sloppy and disturbing look at what America could become. Violence across the country, burning effigies, mask-wearing killers. Continue reading “Some Thoughts and Observations That Won’t Appear in My Next Blog Post”

The Dark Tower?

In reality, Bale has been considered off-and-on recently for the role of Roland in The Dark Tower, although the role apparently recently went to Javier Bardem instead.

The question is not whether or not Bale could portray Roland.  Seriously, of course he could be Roland.

This is young Roland, an angsty parallel universe knight cowboy.  Contrast him with old Roland (pictured below), a stoic parallel universe knight cowboy who meets Stephen King, for some reason.   

This post is so far the first – and probably only ever – post in which I will argue that there is a potential film that not even Bale’s involvement could save.  Quite simply, there is no good reason for The Dark Tower to be adapted into a film, and there are several very good reasons for why it shouldn’t be.

For those of you not familiar with it, The Dark Tower is a seven book fantasy series by Stephen King which has an amazing first three installments before gradually disintegrating into cheap, Craven-esque meta-fiction, blatant promotion of King’s other novels, and full-blown plagiarism.

 This is an older Roland, at the Dark Tower’s rose garden or something.

Example: For some reason, the good guys all fight an army of Dr. Doom werewolves somewhere in the fifth or sixth book, and at another point they all gather around and read Stephen King books together. Then they meet Stephen King and Stephen King can’t believe that Roland looks just the way he imagined him, which is really cool, reading a Stephen King book about Stephen King meeting the main character of the book you were reading.

Anyway, my point is this: not even Bale can save a Dark Tower film series. Especially because they are discussing it being a trilogy of movies with different television series between each film. As long as they completely write Stephen King out of it, it might work.  Because really, try considering some of the cameos Stephen King has made.  The only one that you have maybe seen is Pet Semetary.  Other than that, it’s Rose Red (a made-for-TV movie about a haunted house?), The Storm of the Century (which does not star George Clooney and Mark Whalberg), Sleepwalkers (probably a 90s movies about vampires), and the made-for-TV miniseries called The Shining (yes, there’s another version of The Shining, which has nothing to do with Kubrick or Nicholson, and is not to be confused with the fake trailer for the comedy version of The Shining.)  Now, if these are the films that he had cameos in, what disaster would happen if he had a major role?  As himself?

The only good thing is that the whole project would be such a disaster, you could be guaranteed that Bale would have a better meltdown than the Terminator one.