Today, younger and older people want a piece of science fiction filmmaking nostalgia. The new Star Wars and Alien films come to mind. Younger people want to get in on the same effect that another generation got from the original Star Wars and Alien films in the 1970’s and older people want to repeat that nostalgia.
I’m going to date myself here, but I remember as a teenager sitting in the theater watching the first Star Wars movie and everyone in the theater saying, WOW, in amazement, as the large space ship flew onto the screen or the bar scene or the shocking (at the time) warp speed. We were hooked. How about in Alien when an alien parasite bursts through Kane’s rib cage or Nostromo’s Science Officer Ash is a robot or in Alien 3, our up close and personal view of the Alien right next to Ripley. We had never seen anything like this and it was exciting. With the overuse of computer graphics and effects in movies today, it’s almost impossible to do something that stuns people. I think the Matrix in 1999 and Avatar in 2009 were the last examples that did this.
The truth is, the first Star Wars film was an original, creative masterpiece that was never made to be big blockbuster high revenue masterpiece. The same thing is true with the original Alien movie. Unlike today, Star Wars in 1977 was not a big budget movie, filled with A-List actors, set up to make a lot of money. Sometimes, movies just do this and become cult classics that impact a generation of people.
In 1979, Ridley Scott brought Alien into theaters. Alien took people by surprise and the following Alien Anthology, Alien, Aliens and Alien 3 were all great movies.
Both Star Wars and Alien did what few films today do well, create brilliant sequels that are as good as the original film or better.
Let’s look at how and why this happened.
With Star Wars, we had a young George Lucas who was at his creative best and ready to make his filmmaking mark on the world. Along with George Lucas, there were many talented and creative FX and makeup creators who were young and looking to make their statement in Hollywood. As well as some young brilliant Actors, that were little known at the time, who were trying to break into the filmmaking world and an excellent experienced Cinematographer, Gilbert Taylor to work with. Everyone was talented, hungry and at their youthful creative best, full of energy and passion. The movie didn’t need a huge blockbuster budget because all of the things I just mentioned came out onto the screen, and maybe the most important thing, Star Wars was something different and new in 1977 that people were not expecting.
Another young and talented Director Steven Spielberg, at the height of his creative filmmaking genius, did the same thing with Jaws in 1975, Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 1982. Talk about an amazing run of films. We can easily overlook 1941 in 1979 but I’m sure the studios pushed him for another Animal House mega hit with John Belushi but Steven Spielberg wasn’t a John Landis type of Director and didn’t have a hungry extremely funny and creative Harold Ramis and Douglas Kenney to work with. Robert Zemeckis, who wrote 1941, wouldn’t hit his writing peak until 1985 with Back to the Future.
In 1979, Ridley Scott hit his filmmaking creative stride with Alien. Like Star Wars, Alien was never the big budget film that was supposed to launch brilliant sequels and become a masterpiece of science fiction cinema.
Like Star Wars, Alien had young hungry talented Writers, Actors, an excellent Cinematographer, FX and makeup creators all looking to make their mark in the film industry. He also had an amazing artist, H.R. Giger to design the Alien. What they created with the budget they had was brilliant and it transferred over to the screen.
What Star Wars and Alien have in common was a magic that was created at the right time with the right people working together. Like the Beatles meeting each other and starting a band or Michael Jackson reviving his solo career, as disco and dance music was no longer in style and the result is Quincy Jones working with him to produce “Thriller”, his comeback masterpiece.
Can the Magic Be Repeated?
After losing much of his fortune in a divorce settlement, George Lucas finally agreed to make more Star War’s movies and in 1994, he began work on the screenplay of the first prequel, tentatively titled Episode I: The Beginning.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 1999, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones in 2002 and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, in 2005, were the result and compared to the original Star Wars trilogy, they all sucked. Although, the hype and the nostalgia factor (which is Hollywood’s most used weapon) made them successful at the box office. I don’t think anyone wanted to see George Lucas destroy his filmmaking career with three box office Star Wars bombs.
In 2008, both George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg tried to revive Indiana Jones with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” It failed compared to the original masterpieces but it made a lot of box office money on the nostalgia factor.
Fast forward to 2015 and Disney awakens the Force with “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens” and announces a trilogy. George Lucas, who has now made a ton of cash and no longer has to worry about a comeback signs on as a creative consultant and three of Star Wars original Actors are still fighting the force in their golden years are brought back for brief appearances in the film (the nostalgia factor). Can’t you just feel the Hollywood nostalgia force at work here? Personally, I thought the movie was an unoriginal remake of the first Star Wars film and it wasn’t very good. I’m officially done with Star Wars. If you disagree, please watch the video’s below, included with this article and the force of these videos may wake you up from the Disney nostalgia factor force pulling you into its Star Wars Death Star.
Now let’s look at Alien. Fast forward to 2009, we find out that Ridley Scott is bringing back Alien with a two-part prequel. The result is Prometheus in 2012. Prometheus wasn’t a bad movie and it answered some of the Alien prequel questions but it wasn’t anywhere near an Aliens masterpiece of filmmaking. Prometheus used the nostalgia factor to make money at the box office. It just didn’t have the slow, dreaded, creepy build-up and the Aliens that most of its audience was looking for. Now in 2017, Aliens is back with “Alien: Covenant” with Ridley Scott back in the Directors seat. I haven’t seen the film but it’s gotten a decent 71% on rotten tomatoes and 60% from the audience. At almost 80 years old, Ridley Scott is currently directing two more films, including another untitled Alien: Covenant Sequel. The man has some stamina.
Young people want to be a part of a past filmmaking cult event and the people who experienced the filmmaking cult event, want to relive the nostalgia of it. This is why Hollywood makes so many damn TV shows and comics into movies. It’s all about capturing or trying to create the nostalgia factor and it works.
Does this mean these new films, in any way, resemble the brilliant masterpieces of cinematic art of yesterday they are sequels and prequels of? You see, in 1977 there was no pre-Star Wars or Alien hype. Everything was word of mouth traffic, your senses were not assaulted with Star Wars and Alien trailers blasting at you from multiple electronic devices. I remember in 1973, as a young kid watching people on the news, running out of a movie theater and some of them getting sick from The Exorcist. Think about a large budget horror film doing that today to an audience. It’s probably never going to happen again.
Sadly, Hollywood and now Disney will keep making more and more comic superhero and Star Wars movies until the audience has had enough.
My best advice here to young filmmakers is, use your creativity and passion to be different but still use the hero’s journey template. It’s been around forever and works well with a creative touch (I’ll talk about this in another article). Don’t try to re-create what someone else has already done; do something that is an expression of cinematic art because this force is coming from you. Just like George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg and Ridley Scott did. The fame and fortune came to all of them later but as we have seen, they were never able to re-capture the magic and force they once had. This is why you have to utilize that magic, passion, and creativity now because if you do ever make it big in the film industry, the force will slowly fade away…
George Lucas admits that a Star Wars 7 shouldn’t have been made and that Disney never listened to his ideas. Mark Hamill cannot even do good PR for these new Star Wars films because he knows they suck. See these videos.