Ghostbusters Afterlife: Is nostalgia killing cinema?



But aside from assessing the quality of the franchise titles at hand, it feels as though there is a greater, more existential point for Hollywood cinema to contend with. The desire to appeal to nostalgic instincts is part of a bigger issue, that studios are seemingly becoming less and less likely to take a risk on films without existing brand recognition; indeed, there is a real irony in the fact that much of this nostalgia-driven content is capitalising on once-original titles that simply wouldn’t be made today. This summer’s Free Guy (2021), acquired by Disney with their controversial takeover of Fox, was the studio’s first live-action release not based on an existing intellectual property in three years. Asked whether he thought a studio would bank on an original idea like Free Guy again – which, relatedly, has been lined up for a sequel – director Shawn Levy said: “I’m going through a mental Rolodex of the studios – Sony, Warners, Paramount, Disney, Lionsgate – the truth is those studios are predominantly if not exclusively betting the big money on franchise titles […] Someone referred to Free Guy as the last chopper out of Saigon, and I do think about that. I hope it’s not the case.” And even then, Free Guy itself is not free of nostalgic impulses: it’s notionally based on video games like Grand Theft Auto, and its third act chucks out  $40-billion worth of recognisable props from the Disney stable, a benefit of said takeover, from lightsabers to Captain America’s shield – recognition, again, seemingly being offered up as a great cinematic pleasure in itself.

It is this debatable idea – that the overwhelming drive of mainstream Hollywood cinema is now to offer the dopamine hit of familiarity – that leaves some critics so deflated.”It’s hard not to talk about this in apocalyptic, end of history type language,” Bramesco says. “Not to get existential, but this makes me feel alienated from people, just realising that my value systems as art goes are not only removed from other people’s, but almost diametrically opposed.” For while some might view the current nostalgia-fuelled entertainment model as apocalyptic, others welcome it with open arms.”I don’t care how many times they remake Batman, I will go and see every version of it,” Scott says. “That’s a good thing about the sort of market that SFX speaks to – we love a thing, and we’ll go and see it. If we don’t like the new version, that’s fine. We’ll go to the next one, too. We never let go of our childhood loves.”

Indeed, for most people, formative cinematic experiences – whatever their artistic merit – are hard to shake from the soul. And whether or not you find the glut of nostalgic product agreeable, it manifestly speaks to a deeply held impulse towards the familiar. When we only have time to go to the movies a handful of times a year, after all, we’ll likely spend our money on experiences we think we can trust. The nostalgia mill – even if it cannot maintain the momentum with which it current spins – is unlikely to lose its grip any time soon. But that might just be what audiences want.

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