'Titanic' & 'American Reunion:' Is the nostalgia clock ticking?
Sometime in the late 2020s, a canny producer will try to revive "The Hunger Games." He will graft on the technology of the moment (a smell-enhancing app for your next-generation Google Glasses, natch) and find a new narrative thread to bring back the duo of Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, now nearing 40 and hankering for their fifth collective Oscar.
Overcome with goodwill about the franchise of their formative years, a handful of thirtysomething moviegoers will rush out to see the "Hunger Games" reboot. But the teenagers that comprise the bulk of the filmgoing audience will be baffled by a franchise that reminds them of their parents and instead flock to a newer phenomenon (a superhero horror comedy starring the prepubescent son of Daniel Radcliffe and Rosie Coker, and costarring Justin Bieber, somehow still pre-pubescent in 2029).
OK, so that's as hard to imagine as, say, Tiger winning another major. Still "Hunger Games" did this weekend what, given the cyclical ways of pop culture, others may well one day do to it. In its third weekend of release, the Jennifer Lawrence film crushed not one but two '90s revivals,"Titanic" and "American Pie." Nirvana, indeed.
Few wallets were hurt in the making of "Titanic 3-D"; conversion costs for the reissue ran about $18 mil and were shouldered by two studios. But with barely $17 million in premium ticket prices collected over the three-day weekend, you wouldn't exactly call the James Cameron re-release popular. especially given how much love we had for it the first time around. (In contrast, a 3-D revival of "Beauty and the Beast," which upon initial release made only a fraction of "Titanic's" original $600 million, actually opened to higher numbers.)
The revival craze has been at the cross-currents of opposing pop-cultural trends. On one hand, Hollywood is keen on resurrecting the past in the name of "pre-awareness."On the other, many of us in the moviegoing public are chasing the new and fresh with unprecedented zeal--witness those who for years went lightning-bolt mad every time a new "Harry Potter" book or film hit--or, more recently, those of us who've lapped up the exploits of "Game of Thrones" or the sexploits of "Fifty Shades of Grey."
The latter current seems -- slowly, tentatively -- to be winning, evidence of which you can see not only in the remarkable run of "The Hunger Games," but on the other side, in the sputterings of old stories ("Mirror Mirror") reboots ("The Adventures of Tintin") and sequels of reboots ("Wrath of the Titans"). When you work the nostalgia muscle that hard, you can come up gimpy with a contemporary audience Is it any accident that, as my colleague Amy Kaufman notes, nearly two-thirds of the "American Reunion" crowd this weekend was over 25, and thus at least experiencing adolescence when the first movie came out? For better or worse, the 2012 teenager isn't that conscious of the adventures of Stifler & Co., and certainly isn't running out to see them.
Lest this sound like the wishful thinking of someone who prefers his past unransacked, consider this: in three of the last four years, the majority of the box office top five came from properties created after the year 2000, from "Twilight" to "Up," "Avatar" to "The Hangover." Hollywood may urgently want us to remember the past -- and occasionally a "Lion King" or a "21 Jump Street" helps us do that -- but for the most part we're adept at forgetting it.
Yes, "Hunger Games" is a singular phenomenon. But then, that's sort of the point. The first part of "Twilight: "Breaking Dawn," thwomped "The Muppets" reboot last Thanksgiving. The last couple of "Harry Potter" movies left a scattering of reboots in their wake. The phenomena these days are the new stuff.
Plenty of more remakes and revivals will hit screens in the months and years ahead. Some of them will be respectable, others will even be good. No one, for instance, begrudges Christopher Nolan another Batman movie. But as Hollywood looks at existing properties convinced they can't fail, a weekend like this does a pretty good job persuading us they can.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: "American Pie." Credit: Universal Pictures.