Summer is over for Hollywood’s big box-office films — figuratively and literally. Ticket sales for the season dropped 14 per cent from the same period last year and industry profits hit their lowest since 2001. It was a rough season. As one financial analyst stated bluntly, “I wouldn’t want to be a movie theatre owner right now.” The film industry’s problems are multiple: user-based review websites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb are able to kill a lacklustre movie before opening weekend is over; streaming services such as Netflix and Stan allow people to watch quality films and series from home; and the clincher: people are tired of shitty old sequels, prequels, spin-offs and reboots. Put simply, the past few months at the cinema have been marred by too many crap movies.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, The Mummy and Baywatch were some of the grandest financial failures, along with the sequels to Alien, Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean. At this point, the question isn’t why people neglected to see these films – it’s why they would ever have bothered to take an interest in the first place. What could possibly be enticing about another reboot of The Mummy or King Arthur? Slight improvements in special effects are no longer enough. And who the fuck thought it was a good idea to take a tragically retro ’90s TV show, replace David Hasselhoff with ‘The Rock’, sprinkle some lame jokes on top and expect people to get excited about it? The common problem with these reboots was that they were completely devoid of anything new. No wonder people stopped watching.
Audiences aren’t necessarily averse to retro or nostalgic content (Wonder Woman was actually one of the few movies that performed well at the box office this season) but the way these films were rehashed, repeated and rebooted failed to engage people. They needed to be cleverer and better packaged. Take the trailer for Steven Spielberg’s newest picture, Ready Player One (due for release in March 2018), for example. Based on a novel by Ernest Cline, it’s a sci-fi film set in 2045 about a gamer who uses a virtual reality system to escape the poverty and drudgery of his everyday existence. He spends his time exploring the OASIS, a VR experience where “the limits of reality are your own imagination”. The film looks more compelling than anything else in recent memory, not just because the concept is relevant (our lives are increasingly understood through digital media rather than the physical present) but because it blends nostalgia with a fresh take on the future.
Its nostalgia comes in the form of subtle yet poignant references to dozens of classic 1980s films from its genre. The trailer reveals a car crash with the DeLorean from Back to the Future, a zero-gravity dance floor in which Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings is busting a move, and a battlefield brawl involving Duke Nukem and Freddy Kruger. Spielberg knows the power of retro, picking and choosing the little bits of nostalgia the viewers will want to see, but ultimately the story is a new one. It’s a dystopian vision of a world ravaged by climate change, swollen with over-population and primarily experienced through VR. Great films require strong characters, plots and perspectives, but most importantly they have to bring something new to the table.
Ready Player One could yet be a flop, but it looks way more interesting than another remake of The Mummy could ever be.
*Article pulled from Penthouse Retro, on shelves now.