On the Hollywood blockbuster machine and nostalgia

“Ten years ago, everyone was making jokes about how all the most popular movies were sequels and remakes. Now, they’re all sequels to sequels, and remakes of remakes, and they rely so heavily on your nostalgia for earlier films that they have nothing else to offer. These films no longer produce iconic images or catchphrases that enter the pop culture lexicon; they merely reproduce what’s already been made.

Jurassic World copies the blocking of the famous “raptors in the kitchen” scene from Jurassic Park several times, shows a dinosaur chasing a truck in the truck’s side mirror, the aforementioned triceratops scene, and countless others. Perhaps Trevorrow’s “paying homage” to the original, but I don’t think a sequel can pay homage to the film it’s a sequel of, and, in any case, “paying homage” has been the go-to excuse for plagiarists since Godard told Samuel Fuller he was merely “paying homage” to Fuller’s films when he copied them.

Before the film, they played a trailer for the upcoming Terminator Genisys, and it repeated at least three or four of the famous lines from the original Terminator film: “I’ll be back,” “Get out,” “Come with me if you want to live,” etc. If I wanted to hear those lines, why wouldn’t I watch the movie they’re from, rather than some new movie that’s repeating them?

Maybe these little callbacks and references are pleasurable to a lot of people, but I wonder how kids now are responding to it. Are today’s eight-year-old boys being inspired by regurgitated claptrap like Jurassic World? I have trouble believing that those eight-year-olds now will be watching Jurassic World when they’re my age instead of Jurassic Park, or last year’s remake of RoboCop instead of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original.

To paraphrase what Godard said about Hitchcock, you can tell Spielberg is something of a film poet because, while you may not remember the details of the plot in Jurassic Park, you definitely remember the water rippling in the cup as the T. rex approached. Jurassic World not only fails to create such memorable images, it doesn’t even try, and once a film gives up on originality, it immediately descends into nihilism. Whatever sensory pleasures such a film may offer, the underlying assumption is that the entire experience is empty and meaningless.

This isn’t a generational preference for what I liked when I was six years old. Jurassic Park owes a lot to John Ford, King Kong, and every movie Ray Harryhausen ever worked on, but, if you’re on board with its particular sense of fun and adventure, it makes you want to watch it again. The new Hollywood blockbuster doesn’t want to make you watch it again; it wants to make you watch the next one. A film like Jurassic World (or Avengers: Age of Ultron, or Transformers: Age of Extinction), for all its financial success, is forgotten by the time its inevitable sequel arrives. It’s huge and loud and bursts into cinemas to great fanfare, then disappears, a cinematic whale fart blowing away in the wind.”

Lee Weston Sabo

From an amazing article on Jurassic World and modern blockbusters in general. Check it out.

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2 thoughts on “On the Hollywood blockbuster machine and nostalgia

  1. Thanks for the link! It’s an interesting analysis. I personally enjoyed Jurassic World and thought it was a fun movie, but I readily admit that it’s stupid. However one thing I should thank the film for is introducing me to the original (I know! I know! Twenty years too late! I was a easily scared child…) My older siblings and I watched it before we went to see Jurassic World, and it really is a great movie. Hopefully this is an example of how the younger generation who’s watching all these remakes and sequels will be introduced to the movies they’re based on.

    In regards to blockbusters in general they all seem the same. Yes, I’ll occasionally find some gems (I loved Winter Soldier and Days of Future Past, for example) but overall blockbusters have morphed into a giant pile of goo that just makes me shrug indifferently. Hollywood films have just lost their spark, and I feel like there needs to be a big change in the industry to fire it up again. I just wish there was a lot more originality and creativity being used in these films (even if they are remakes and sequels), rather than just keeping it safe for the sake of cash. Until then, it’ll take a lot for me to head to the theater more than once a year.

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    • I didn’t see Jurassic World (and I haven’t seen Jurassic Park either, despite being 21 years old– heck, it took me until this year to see Ghostbusters), but in general, most of these blockbusters leave me cold and I prefer to use my money to attend screenings of older films. I think the only “new movie” I saw recently was Inside Out and that’s because Pixar is generally dependable and original.

      There really is a creativity void in Hollywood. Not that remakes and sequels were ever absent, but that’s the majority of the Hollywood output now. I wish attendance would slump so bad that they’d be forced to change things up, but I don’t see that coming anytime soon. The only film I’m looking forward to this year is Star Wars Episode VII and if that sucks, well, I’ll stay at home with my Buster Keaton and Miyazaki Blu-rays.

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