Cinema is rife with sequels and adaptions, a stab at our memories or perhaps more cynically an attachment to a proven property for a new generation, a guaranteed winning formula. To slip into an established world and tell stories on the template created by others is somewhat easy, that does not mean it does not require talent when done well. But has it been done well lately?
The expanded universes and fan fictions of the past gave us new worlds, characters and story lines that existed within a place that we were familiar with. Star Wars and Star Trek for example had a golden age of expanded universes, often written by fans who understood and knew the universe that they wrote about. They loved it and have imagined it, eagerly adding to it. In recent times, the attempt to attract the nostalgia fix, modern mediums have beaten to death the properties that they seek to profit from. Writers for hire spitting out adaptions where it’s clear that they either hate or have no idea about the property.
It has become routine, a formula in itself, to have cinema saturated with remakes or established properties, Though often the adaptions merely adopt the aesthetic, they cosplay through the universe providing a surface level depiction. The characters are avatars, insert characters and dare I use the over used term, Mary and Gary Sues. The unbeatable, chosen one who does not need to learn, invulnerable, plot armour coated hero that sails from event to event with little reason or motive. Every episode or scene happens to be a side quest or a just because moment. The audiences are slowly growing tired.
For a time Western movies and novels were a certain seller, people could not get enough from John Wayne to Clint Eastwood, the romantic hero stories of American frontier mythologies across to the Sergio Leone grit and fly drizzled cinema that challenged morality. It was a rich genre, until the mega film Heavens Gate failed and suddenly many claimed that the Western was dead. Though outliers emerged from Silevrado, Unforgiven, to the mini-series Lonesome Dove. Not to mention classics like Tombstone. People still enjoyed Westerns, so long as they were original and done right. They were less prolific and required creativity, character and good writing to push through the tired tropes that had weakened the genre.
People still enjoy the nostalgic, so long as it is done well. The trouble is that apprehension now befalls those who truly love a property. The reader of the books or lover of a decades old show fear the coming ruination of what they adore. To witness it on a modern screen can detract from its essence, no matter the budget, the talent of the cast, bad writing, token direction and studio tinkering can ruin most things. Even the well intended. The fans of Game of Thrones for its last season, the Witcher lovers, many DC properties, to the already mentioned Star Wars and Star Trek universes all dwindling let downs. But there will always be an audience who are more interested in the noise, imagery and atmosphere of a property rather than what made it good in the first place.
Each fan base falls in love with a property because of certain elements, a message, a series of characters and the unique elements that go into making it distinct. That fan base sticks with the universe long after the property fades from box office fame or contemporary appeal, they are loyal because it speaks to them. It has moved them and inspired them. In time, when studios need a cash cow or wish to invigorate a property they may do it justice from time to time, in fact some remakes are better than the original. John Carpenter’s The Thing or the 1959 Ben Hur for example. It is rare however.
What we enjoy, especially when it comes to fictions is subjective. We all have varying tastes. The tragedy of the nostalgia drug is not a criticism from a snobbish stand point but from the consideration that it detracts talent from other fields. Instead of making original ventures, investing into different stories, that can be fresh and interesting, District 9 as an example. We end up with large budget, bloated productions that seem choppy or hybrids that don the costume of an established property. Original content and creators are rarely given an opportunity, the platforms instead opting to push the nostalgic corporate product and the audience at times unwilling to try new things.
So instead we have a palate addicted to nostalgic junk food. It’s comfortable and satisfies, even if it’s crap. It’s known. And it’s trusted, given repeated chances even if it continues to be a let down. The new and original dies before it is even allowed to be born. And the irony is, when something does arise, push through as an original it will soon become over saturated or an abused property. Adaptions will gorge from it and in time, it too will become subject to remakes, adaptions and sequels chasing that nostalgia fix. Perhaps that’s just me being cynical…
We all have a tendency to romance the past, to attach ourselves to events and moments we lived. We likely do that with fictional properties as well. Climbing back into the familiar because it reminds us of being a child or a time in our life. That is a lovely thing, though perhaps we should not become so fixated on dwelling in the past, we will always have it. New memories and experiences await us, so too should new properties, characters, universes and adventures. We just need to be brave enough to experiment and explore, to find something new, we may not like it or we may fall in love. The audience, the reader has more power than they realise, the creators soon will respond, whether they happen to be the cynical cookie cutters mass producing nostalgia or the inventors of original new content. Take a risk, and read, watch, listen to something new, you may even enjoy it. After all, the nostalgia cookies will continue to be overflowing from the jar close at hand for quite awhile anyhow.