Debate of the Day: How Much Does Nostalgia Make Bad Things Good?

I recently watched Midnight in Paris, where the ultimate point of the film was that when we view the world with nostalgia tinted glasses and always think that yesteryear was the best era to experience, we’re often mistaken or over-idealizing the past.

I think that the same principle applies to media, and I think that if we looked objectively at certain films, games or shows, without having experienced them while growing up, we might not see them as quite as amazing as we do.

As I grew up mostly in the ’90s, I missed a lot of hardcore action movies from the ’80s that were a signature of the decade. But as I’ve tried to get through a lot of them, I’ve found that many were just plain…bad, despite their pop culture icon status.

The possibly blasphemous example I cite in the picture above is Escape from New York, which on the surface, seemed like it should be awesome. Kurt Russell is Snake Plissken, a convict sent into dystopian Manhattan, now an Arkham City-type supermax prison, to rescue to president when Air Force One goes down inside. And he has an EYEPATCH!

But experiencing this movie for the first time, it was just BAD. The writing, the acting, the action sequences were all pretty horrific, and ended up being an exceptionally dumb feature, but not in a lovable, fun way. I had a similar experience with The Crow and The Lost Boys, two more films I just didn’t understand the appeal of. Were they so bad people thought they were funny? I’m not sure.

Now I’m not saying this is a universal truth with all classic films. There are some like Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, etc. that are unquestionably good no matter what era you view them in. But this sub-section of films? I think it’s overrated, and those who love them might be blinded by nostalgia.

This is just once specific example, but I think it happens on a more widespread scale, like how we berate children for not liking early NES or SEGA games, when objectively, new titles are in fact better in most areas. I think nostalgia covers all our eyes to a certain extent, and it makes it incredibly difficult to be objective about anything.

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  1. The “Escape” series were meant to be bad. Their just fun stupid movies, that is all.

    Kurt Russell has the largest range of absolute shit movies to fantastic movies of any actor in Hollywood I think.

  2. Nostalgia does not blind my eyes to “classic” movies I grew up with and always thought were good. Case in point: Rocky 4. My favorite movie EVER. For my money, no movie gets me as excited and motivated, as well as nostalgic as that film does. I swear, it should be put in a time capsule. Everything about the movie SCREAMS the 80’s. Plot, acting, cinematography, editing, clothing, hairstyles, and of course, SOUNDTRACK. As a dumb popcorn flick, the film is good on all levels.

    Viewed objectively by those either too young or too old to have been around during that time? The film’s a piece of shit. It doesn’t make sense, it’s unrealistic, the acting is phoned in by all, and really was nothing more than a vanity project for Stallone to show off his muscles and keep himself as an A-Lister in Hollywood by digging in the well yet again (by that I mean, making yet another sequel to his beloved character since anything he did besides Rocky and Rambo would flop).

    It honestly doesn’t even belong in the series. Rocky 5, for all its flaws, was more in synch with the overall “tone” that the rest of the series has (though I’m sure Rocky 3 is debatable to this as well). Rocky 4 however, is so far removed from the rest of the films that, honestly, if you change the name of the characters, replace the actors, and remove the flashbacks, you don’t even have a Rocky film.

    And of course, since the movie was the biggest hit of 1985, many other action films would follow it’s lead with the same type of story, or just a training montage. Amazing to think how much pull Stallone had in Hollywood at one time, isn’t it?

  3. I just rewatched Escape from New York a couple weeks ago and thought it held up decently well. I certainly can’t see how it’s somehow worse than, oh, Fast Five or something like that. In both cases, the silliness isn’t unintentional. Plus, it has style, which does count for something.

    I would say that a lot of the reason people liked the Transformers movie was because of misplaced nostalgia. It’s a very potent factor nowadays, particularly where pop culture is concerned. That’s part of why the entirety of the 1980s is getting remade, I imagine.

  4. I saw Road Warrior for the first time when I was like 16? and it immediately became my favorite movie of all time. Still is.
    That said, the first time I saw They Live, Escape from New York, Robocop, A Boy and His Dog (want to talk about aged?) and such, I loved them all. I grew up with MST3K though, so being able to enjoy a campy movie is kind of intuitive to me 😛

    I do enjoy some modern movies, but when it gets to the point that EVERYTHING but the actors is CGI, you can’t help but notice the flaws or unrealistic nature of it. Back in the 80s, there was no CGI, so everything HAD to be real (except like the integrated stop motion stuff in Robocop etc., which suffered the same uncanny valley type problems as modern CGI)

    The other thing is they try to make everything so epic and flashy. Just see the Transformers movies, how many “alright, strike a pose and we’ll cycle the camera around you and stop when the sun is glaring behind you” scenes were there. How epic all the music has to be now, with “MY WORLD IS ON FIRE” Linkin Park syndrome. It just gets distracting imo, and it’s not just Transformers that suffers from this. There’s something to be said about the grittiness of old movies that just doesn’t come through in modern films. (i.e. that fight scene in They Live)
    Disctrict 9 did a really good job overcoming this problem, though. that movie was grit as gravel.

    I realize that this mainly applies to action and sci-fi genres, as drama tends to age better since it focuses more on character interaction, plot, etc.

    As for video games… I just replayed Deus Ex. As long as the control scheme is customizable and pretty much the same as modern games, and the graphics don’t make you seasick (some games are like this to me now) they’re playable. I remember games like Doom and Hexen didn’t have the mouse look up or down, instead it moved you forward and backward, and your bullets just automatically traveled to the elevation the monsters were at. I didn’t know how to turn those off at the time, but I doubt I could do that today. I just replated Fallout 1 and 2 and those were still fun. Depends on the type of game I guess.

  5. your right, using escape is blasphemous in my opinion, but to each their own. You do make a valid point thought, allot of that stuff doesn’t hold up.

  6. I knew about the Escape’s cult status and that’s why I wanted to see it. It was bad. It wasn’t engaging, interesting or amazing in any level. It felt like a chore to sit through. Still, there are a lot of enjoyable 80’s movies there, Escape just isn’t one of them. At last not for me. Remember Paul, you don’t have to like a movie because you “should” like it.

  7. A lot of Carpenter’s movies from the 70’s-80’s were either straight up good horror/sci-fi or campy social satire. I think if you lived during that time you might appreciate the absurdist elements of They Live and Escape from New York, both commenting on life in the Reagan Era.

    When I watched Miracle I could not imagine someone not living in the cold war era watching it and understanding how big of a deal it was to beat the Soviets. It was not nostalgia, it was perspective. There is a huge difference.

    For example, Red Dawn. Straight up propaganda to boost support for the home team. It featured Guerrilla Warfare tactics against an enemy invading the USA, as well as cough Patrick Swayze, cough Charlie Sheen and cough C. Thomas Howell (how dreamy). Anyway, we are supposed to cheer for those kids, fast forward a few years and the same thing happens in real life, only this time we call the tactics terrorism because it happened against the invading force of Iraq (the USA)…. see perspective changes things.

    Then there are movies that keep the same perspective to show you things never really change. Just pop in Wallstreet and follow it up with Wallstreet 2.

    Star Wars is crap space opera like hundreds of earlier movies, the only difference is George Lucas got the special effects right. I love the movie but to call the acting (minus Harrison Ford) good in A New Hope is impossible. Everyone is overacting, underacting or sleep acting. I think if you look close you can see Sir Alec rolling his eyes and making a jerk off motion in some scenes while whistling the theme to Bridge Over the River Kwai under his breath.

    Sure nostalgia is always a factor but I think perspective is maybe a little more important.

  8. I don’t think we’re anymore blinded by nostalgia than you are effected by not being exposed to it until 30 years later. We just look at it differently. The real downside is on you. Unfortunately you won’t be able to enjoy some of those nostalgic movies the way a lot of us do. As for Blade Runner and Alien, kids these days for the most part don’t care about those classic, same way as me (30) not caring about Casablanca. Just a different era I guess. And honestly if Star Wars would have stopped with the original trilogy and today’s youth not have been over saturated by the new stuff, I bet kids today wouldn’t think twice about them. So it’s all subjective in the end and the ones fortunate enough to enjoy the cheesy “classics” of our youth got in on something pretty awesome. You say it like nostalgia is a bad thing.

  9. Escape I believe was meant to be camp, kind of like Evil Dead, Army of Darkness.

    Just had to add that as a 9yr. old kid this movie made me conscious to under-cleavage.

  10. I would say expectations have more to due with viewing a film than anything else. You set your expectations too high an no film is ever going to measure up, set them low and you might be pleasantly surprised.

  11. I’m 21 and absolutley love the action movies and stars of the 80s/90s. First Blood/Rambo, Death Wish, Escape From New York to name. Sly and Bronson are biggest baddasses of all-time. On the contrary, I can’t stand the garbage that comes out these days. Jason Statham is the only guy I like watching.

  12. It’s only getting worse. We’ve always looked back with fondness on the movies and music of our respective formative years. It goes beyond pop culture (which is why that one party at your frat house, or prom night, or your performance in “the big game” seems to get more and more epic as the story is re-told) but I’ll stick to the subject at hand.

    Of course we all romanticize the past, but movie sutdios, toy makers, etc. have figured out that nostalgia is not just good for recycling ideas, it’s also worth a shitload of money. So now we get shows like VH1’s “I love the 90’s” premiering in 2004. 4 years after the 90’s ended. Is that even enough time to look back and reflect on the questionable fashion and terrible bands that we all apparently loved? I doubt it. Now we have studios literally optioning anything and everything they can get their hands on in order to capitalize on our love of things from our childhood. Granted some of those movies are from 80’s era nostalgia like Battleship, GI Joe, Transformers, etc. (at least they waited a while, but the films themselves are still fucking atrocious and obvious cash grabs, but that’s also a topic for another debate).

    The cycle is getting shorter and It’s retarded. The hyper-romanticization of our collective experience is ruining what makes nostalgia so endearing. I can’t be nostalgic about Sam Raimi’s Spiderman movies (ending in 2007) and argue their merits with my nephew who likes the new one….they’re both practically new movies. I want to wait 10 years before I can look back fondly on how awesome something was. If I still like it, then that’s cool, if not I can move on with my life.

    But yeah, some movies are still awesome after 20-30 years (Big Trouble in Little China, Logan’s Run) and some are fucking terrible (The Crow, Arnold’s entire output). It all just depends on your taste!

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