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I Love the Eighties: Blockbuster Edition

I am a child of the eighties. It’s a bit of an irony that I am too young to actually recall any of the decade, but still feel more than a pang of nostalgia about it. Evidently I’m not the only one. Perhaps it’s in recognition of the turn of a new decade or the rise of a younger generation, but even a cursory glance at the big budget blockbusters coming our way this summer reveal that the times, they are a-changing. No longer is our fascination with quirky seventies sex comedies or gritty urban cop dramas of that decade: this year, we’re going back to the eighties.

The Expendables is a blast from the past...

There’s the obvious example of The A-Team, a big budget action comedy remake working its way to the screen this summer, but it isn’t really remakes that we use to determine Hollywood’s tastes. After all, we got a (fairly disappointing) Miami Vice remake a few years ago. Though you might point to the general resurgence of Mr. T (selling Snickers bars and World of Warcraft, among other things) as an example of how far that property has seen its stock climb. However, I think the changes are somewhat bigger than one simple tentpole remake. And, oddly enough, this is arguably the movie here I am least anticipating.

Take, for instance, the two big action films of the year. Predators is obviously inspired by the eighties alien monster, but the movie seems more retro than even that. In ignoring the painful sequels that damaged the franchise in the nineties and naughties (by the way, what are these, the tennies?), the trailer embraces a consciously eighties style, echoing through the “dark sci-fi jungle” atmosphere as far as the lines. “How do we kill them?” a confused Adrian Brody asks of the eponymous hunters, only to be assured by the cool, rhythmic voice of Laurence Fishburne telling him “However you can.” The only way that the exchange could get anymore consciously eighties would be if Fishburne were to repeat the phrase slower, for emphasis while playing with an absurdly sharp and large knife. While we’re on the subject of creature features, it’s probably worth pointing to the reportedly disappointing remake of the 1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street that crashlanded in cinemas already this year.

Speaking of Predator, we also have its star, Arnie, returning to the big screen. Not only is the core premise of The Expendables ridiculously eighties – what with its top-secret Delta Force thing going on – I defy you to look at the cast list. Of course names like Jason Statham and Jet Li represent very modern and successful action stars, they are starring alongside their spiritual predecessors. Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren and Eric Roberts round out the cast, but the trailers make a lot of noise about a scene featuring the lead – Sylvester Stallone – with two cameo’ing action stars – Arnie and Bruce Willis. All of these actors reached their prime in the decade that taste forgot – you could even argue that a lot of them are still trading off their successes from that period of their careers. The movie is a spiritual successor to films like The Running Man or Cobra or numerous other exploitation action flicks which only exist to offer gratuitous violence. It’s a love song written to those sorts films, which were hugely popular in the eighties. If films like Training Day or Narc and the rake of street-level crime films in the naughties reflected the socially-conscious cop films of the seventies (films like Dirty Harry or Serpico), it appears that the defining genre of the eighties was that sort of mindless, no-brained action film. Which is great, because the genre could certainly benefit from being take back to its roots.

Gratuitous eighties product placement... TO THE MAX! (cue guitar riff!)

Hell, even our tastes in comedy appear to be shifting to the years that gave us the phrase “greed is good”. Ignoring the spin-off Get Him to the Greek, Saturday Night Live carcature MacGruber is receiving the big-screen treatment. Even those unfamiliar with the series of sketches should be able to deduce the famous handy man which inspired this particular bumbling fool – and that’s without looking at his mullet. Though the trailer hints at wider comedy, the character began as a light-hearted mockery of iconic secret agent MacGyver, who – along with The A-Team and Magnum P.I. – remains a fondly-remembered relic of the eighties. Even the vast majority of the potential audience who weren’t born while MacGyver was on the air will appreciate the references. Sure, he never took “an upper decker”, but it wouldn’t be a Saturday Night Live adaptation without some crass lowest common denominator humour now, would it? You could also argue that Hot Tub Time Machine represents a loving pastiche of Back to the Future, just with a modern sense of humour. Even the summer’s big Jerry Bruckheimer film, Prince of Persia, is an adaptation of a 1989 video game.

It’s weird to see nostalgia for a time when I was alive. Perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that I am gradually getting older, or perhaps it’s an indication that Hollywood is consuming the past at an even faster rate, and needed to move on. Or maybe it means nothing at all, and it’s a fluke. Next year we’ll be back to conventional superheroes and seventies action franchises. Who knows? Right now, I’m just going to enjoy a little retro-chic and nostalgia for a time I can’t even remember.

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7 Responses

  1. Hollywood is just on a remake binge, it will pass like any other fad. Of all those movies, I’m only interested in The Expendables. I did not find the MacGruber trailer funny at all and the jury is still out with the A-Team although I enjoyed the TV show.

    It’s funny because I linked to this article by Kelli Marshall where she wonders if Generation X is really buying all those 80′s remake.

    http://kellimarshall.net/unmuzzledthoughts/popculture/film/80sremakes-genx/

    • It’s actually a great article. I’m not really anticipating the A-Team. What’s wrong with the original television show on a lazy weekend afternoon when you’re only half watching it and half watching the barbecue? It just seems kinda pointless. The Expendables is perhaps the one I’m most interested in – but I will confess to being quite curious about Predators.

      I’m surprised that MacGruber is reviewing as well as it is. “The Best Saturday Night Live Movie Since Wayne’s World” isn’t the toughest award to win, but people seem to be genuinely liking it.

      • Thanks! And, yes, it’s a fad — but one that I hope soon falls by the wayside! =)

      • I wouldn’t be so optimistic. As long as enough of them keep making profits, Hollywood will keep up the trend. And given the sheer number of throwbacks this summer, at least some of them have to be successes.

  2. I’m pretty nostalgic about the eighties too and can’t wait for The Expendables, let’s hope it lives up to expectations.

    • Yep. There is a lot of pressure on it, though – which isn’t really fair (I think) since it’s a homage to all those action flicks that came out in the eighties and were pretty quickly forgotten. So I have a little worry this much anticipation might be bad for it. All I want is to be entertained for an hour and a bit.

  3. Become a fan of the Expendables facebook page! Watch the trailer, check out movie stills and read about the cast – http://www.facebook.com/expendablesmovie

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