Looking back on 2011, we should have seen it coming. The growing re-obsession with ’80s brands in entertainment. Facebook reconnecting old friends and classmates. YouTube rising to prominence and providing the means to relive memorable moments. Digital music making it virtually effortless to rediscover classic tunes. Nostalgia just became a major part of our lives, at a time when perhaps the present wasn’t the easiest. Naturally, pop culture has corrected itself to capitalize, which is maybe why most movies this year felt so recycled.
The summer season looked like someone had a yard sale for comic books and the best ones were kept tucked away. Thor. Captain America. Green Lantern. Wait, X-Men! Only it’s a new, “first” class set in the ’60s, sans favorites like Wolverine. Earlier, The Green Hornet?
Meanwhile, Real Steel made things used and rusted feel… used and shiny. We all learned a valuable lesson from The Help‘s age-old wisdom, though I think most of us have already forgotten what that was by now. Conan the Barbarian‘s comeback failed harder than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return from politics. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was solid despite being a reboot. The Hangover was a hit because people told their friends it was funny and original. So what did WB do this year? They gave us the exact same movie. No wonder we’re getting movies like Source Code, fun as it is, where we continue to relive parts of our life again, like Groundhog Day or Tom Cruise’s latest development, All You Need is Kill.
But nostalgia blockbusters are niche, a burst of re-acquaintance for a specific group of 20-and-30-somethings, then stored away again. Are audiences really going to look back on Transformers: Dark of the Moon in ten years and sigh? “Those were the good old days…” (Maybe, if Hasbro assails us with Battleship sequels.) A classic appeals to all generations, like Jaws, before hype machines boasted revivals as “the one[s] to watch this summer.”
Films even became the means for filmmakers to geek out about old school filmmaking. Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist, the odds-on favorite for a fitting “Best Picture,” harkens to the Silent Era of the late 1920s and the emergence of those pesky talkies. J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 was a love note to Spielberg and the hand-held era of DIY movies in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is a heartfelt ode to Georges Méliès and the pioneers of motion pictures at the turn of the century. Simon Curtis’s weak My Week with Marilyn romanticizes a fleeting moment in the bombshell’s short mid-50s movie career. Many of these are likely to make an appearance at the Oscars in February, again hosted by Billy Crystal, who hasn’t been particularly relevant since the last time he hosted the back-slapping event.
Thankfully, Young Adult serves as a cringe-worthy portrait of Generation X’s refusal to let go of the past, and winds up one of the most painfully timely movies of the year. As well as, surprisingly, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which offered a more optimistic epiphany about revisiting old heroes to renew your inspiration. (Not borrowing from them.)
The resurrections continued at Disney with The Lion King, because even 3D glasses and prices couldn’t deter fans from reliving its magic again on the big screen. The Muppets was fantastic, but Jason Segel’s fan film didn’t receive quite the warm welcome the Mouse House expected. Winnie the Pooh was delightful yet disregarded. Cars 2 lacked luster. Pirates 4: On Familiar Rides was monstrous overseas. Here? Not so much.
And it wasn’t just Disney leaning on fond memories for children’s fare. The Smurfs were born anew in a time when Hank Azaria creepily awaited. Mr. Popper’s Penguins returned, then accompanied Jim Carrey to a new low. Even Happy Feet Two seemed dated, as audiences collectively told animators, “We’ve already seen dancing penguins, thanks.”
In the world of horror, the Weinsteins ran back to Wes Craven, but Scream 4 was a whiff despite redoing itself to death. Horror fans may have begrudgingly taken a peek at past Platinum Dunes “reinventions,” but they seem finished with remakes and gimmicks (Paranormal Activity 3 aside, for now). The Thing, The Rite, and Fright Night were all copies, and all disasters. Apollo 18 and Shark Night 3D were laughable. In the end, Insidious, an new original from Aussie Saw creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell, reigned most profitable. Horror has redone itself so much that the best releases to watch for are coming from film festivals now.
And let’s face it, all this looking back is making for some embarrassing movie headlines. Three Snow White movies. That Three Stooges trailer. The Lone Ranger returns. Jennifer Lopez wants to play Carmen Sandiego. Movies becoming successful from toys means we might get a Ouija Board adventure and two more Transformers. Give me a break. If Twister were re-made today, the hurricanes would be replaced by colorful circles for your feet. The remakes, sequels, and prequels keep coming. What’s old is new again. Sigh.