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Why nostalgia isn’t good for movies

Ice-T in his "Pool" Role.

Sigh, yet another top ten list on Digg.  Every day another list.  Crappy Top Ten lists (except for cracked who seem to have a good handle on such things) are thick on the ground these days and getting thicker.  Why bother with a substantive article about 80s nostalgia and the vagaries of movie production when one can just list their favorite tv shows and say “wouldn’t it be cool if Ice-T played Snarf?”

If you missed it; Ice-T played a mutant kangaroo in “Tank Girl”, it’s not a stretch to put him in a Snarf suit.

Face it;  no cartoon you enjoyed as a child will ever be a great movie.

Some movie adaptions of cartoons can be “acceptable” (I’m looking at you GiJoe and Masters of the Universe) but they can easily slide into awful (you too GiJoe, Masters of the Universe and Transformers, Flintstones, Spiderman 3, Batman Forever, Catwoman, etc).

I imagine the reason for this is the same reason we can’t enjoy the same music universally because our individual tastes and cultural lenses are so unique.  When someone tries to interpret why a given concept was so good, their own biases and interpretations will inevitably change the subject to meet their own vision, ruining it for everyone else who “loves it” as much as they do.

Take for example the “Addams Family” excepting the cultural touchstones that were added to the modern movie interpretations, the spirit of the original subject matter remains the same.  The characters are fairly tight copies of the originals, the house is a bigger budget version of the original and while more fleshed out than the original material, there were no significant characterization changes made.

Compare this to “The Transformers”  the stoic warriors from Cybertron who crashed to earth during the cretaceous period and spent millions of years in metal hibernation only to resume their fight in the modern era are replaced with pod robots who are clumsy led by a robot from Cybertron who says “My Bad” and another robot who pees on people.

This is a quality remake?  No this is inevitable.  Michael Bay looked at the Transformers and saw an opportunity to make his Robot Buddy movie.  A metal Bad Boys.

Except Transformers isn’t about cops or drugs or LA cultural commentary; it’s about an ancient war for scarce resources on an alien planet fought by refugees. This is where any adaption for movies would fall apart except in the most skillful of hands, because if you catch my drift from before, my interpretation is probably inaccurate for the general public too.

In 10 years, someone will remake Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

If someone was to remake Harry Potter as a homosexual love triangle between Snape, Draco and Harry it would still sell tickets, regardless of its fidelity to the source material.  This is the state of media and storytelling.  There is almost always an audience, but it takes a deft touch to reach a plurality of that audience.  Even when that audience is made up of fans of the subject matter.

The Harry Potter movies may even be a great example of why Cartoon Movie Remakes are doomed to failure.  Harry Potter is (for the most part) the consistent vision of a single creator telling a continuous story.  Cartoons are (with few exceptions) the product of multiple creators over many years often facing competing visions and cultural pressures.  Even the venerable South Park has uneven storytelling and writing, with wildly vacillating moral mores.  If a cartoon that has creators and producers who are so committed can be so wildly uneven, how can a toy-driven cartoon like “Thundercats” ever hope to be captured as a widely accepted and even acclaimed live-action product?

Fans who came to a product later in life would have a much different view of it if the cultural norms that bore it were no longer remembered or relevant.  GiJoe may have been about an advanced fighting force against a faceless and aggressive terrorist force, but there was a none-to-subtle “USA” vs “Russia” element that hung around it.   The GiJoe comics gave Cobra a more American origin (making Cobra a domestic Terrorist organization led by a former salesman no less – how Postman).  This proved to be somewhat more challenging to put on film, the producers and writers opting for “The Cobra Origin Story” instead of any concrete discussion of the Joes and their purpose (hint, in the 80s the Joes were formed to combat Cobra, or not, depending on who was at the reigns that day)

Which brings me back to my initial point, while reading this you’ve been thinking that here and there I’ve misinterpreted something about one of the cartoons or TV shows I’ve been talking about.  Or more egregiously praised or condemned something that you feel was worthy of neither or both.  Which is the crux of my previous piece on music and this as well.  Appreciation of art or creative works is so subjective, one cannot hope to please a plurality of people without first rendering the subject so inoffensive or so bland so as to remove all unique qualities from it, unless of course the work itself IS unqiue.  Remakes, by their very nature cannot be unique and instead must be reduced to their base elements in order to (if you will excuse the term) hit all the targets at once.  Thus Transformers was “Names, Object labels and Basic story” and Gi-Joe is “The Origin of Cobra” and Masters of the Universe was “Set AFTER the cartoon when Skeletor has won” because faithful remakes are impossible and are avoided by the very people who make them.

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