The Nostalgia Resurgence - The Power of the Past

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By Tom Linay, Head of Film, Digital Cinema Media (DCM)

It seems that it’s currently a pre-requisite for any major blockbuster film to be doused with a liberal helping of nostalgia. Just a quick look at the biggest films of the last year demonstrates that if your film evokes something wistful from our shared past, delivers a good deal of spectacle, but doesn’t strive for anything too out-there, then you stand a chance of striking box office gold.

Zach and Gray, the two intrepid teenagers at the centre of Jurassic World’s logistical balls-up, stumbling upon the ruins of the original Jurassic Park visitor centre, was one of the moments where last year’s sequel really hit the mark and composer, Michael Giacchino, playfully used some of the themes from John Williams’ classic score. Skyfall brought back some well-known Bond motifs and SPECTRE took it a step further, recycling some classic Bond iconography and characters. Finally, Star Wars: The Force Awakens night not have become the biggest film of all time without the return of Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker.

All those films actively play on our feelings for films that may have played a big part in our formative years. I certainly remember the sheer wonder I experienced watching Star Wars: A New Hope for the very first time, and I can still recall the tension I felt when the raptors were chasing Tim and Lex around the kitchen in the first Jurassic Park. These are feelings are mixed up with experiences and emotions that will never leave me, and the most skilful filmmakers know how to play on these feelings, which make it a lot easier to part with the price of a cinema ticket.

On a slightly smaller scale, Dexter Fletcher’s British gem, Eddie The Eagle, in cinemas at the moment, expertly recreates the 1980s through costume and shrewd music choices, and seeing the graphics and design of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics again took me right back to watching it on my parents’ 12 inch black and white television. I’m looking forward to chatting with Dexter at DCM’s session at Advertising Week Europe on Wednesday, to find out how he re-created the 80s and get his take on why nostalgia is big business.

The cinema environment plays a big part too. Technology may have moved on, with 4K imagery, IMAX laser projection, and Dolby Atmos sound, but the basics remain the same: big screen, dark room and captive audience. It’s the perfect opportunity to be transported to another time and place by the world’s best storytellers, and the receptive, engaged audience is only too happy to be taken there. With modern life being so hectic and cluttered, the opportunity to focus on just one thing, in a way that hasn’t really changed for years, is becoming more and more important.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, there’s plenty of nostalgia on the way too. The trailer for Independence Day: Resurgence re-uses lines from the original film, the biggest film of 1996, and even as someone who wasn’t a fully paid up fan of the original, I can’t wait to see Jeff Goldblum play the unlikely hero once again. While the comic talent behind the new incarnation of Ghostbusters is undeniable, a lot of people’s good will towards the film may, rightly or wrongly, rest on how well the film uses the much talked about cameos of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. I’m betting director, Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids) knows exactly what he’s doing.

Classic British television comedy has a big summer and the makers of both Absolutely Fabulous and David Brent: Life On The Road will be hoping that fans of both television shows’ heyday will be up for getting to know the characters once again when they make the leap to the big screen. The very funny teaser for David Brent: Life On The Road that was released a couple of weeks ago suggests that the transition should be as seamless as Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.

Finally, it may focus less heavily on well-known characters than The Force Awakens but this Christmas, Star Wars: Rogue One will press a lot of the same buttons. Judging by the first trailer, the look is close to A New Hope and Darth Vader is expected to make an appearance. It’s likely to follow in the footsteps of Jurassic World, SPECTRE, Skyfall and The Force Awakens and join the top ten films of all-time in the UK, proving that nostalgia is big business.