Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be – except in Hollywood

This summer has been a bizarrely regressive experience for me so far. It began in a small way, seeing Spidey take on Venom in Spider-Man 3 at the start of the blockbuster season, bringing back memories of reading comics in the 80s. Then along came Die Hard 4.0 which, whilst in no way resembling its predecessors, recalled some more fond memories. But then nostalgia overload really took off when Transformers arrived at the multiplex.

This was a film that I had only ever dreamt about in the dim and distant past, but never imagined in a million years would actually happen. Growing up, I lived Transformers. Bought the toys, collected the comics, annuals and books, watched the cartoons, stuck the stickers, pinned up the posters… you name it. When dear old mum gave away my toy collection to a charity shop after I had outgrown them, without my knowledge,  I was mortified (only on the inside of course).

When I was at university in the mid-90s, and the internet began to take off in a big way, my first few surfings uncovered rumours of a live-action spectacle. Back then of course, there were rumours of anything and everything. Movie gossip sites like Ain’t It Cool and (the now defunct) Corona’s Coming Attractions regularly reported utter nonsense, and had nothing like the credibility they do today. “Transformers?” I thought, “That would be amazing, but are they even still going? Who would pay to see a movie based on an 80s fad that no-one remembers anymore, apart from me?”

It turns out – quite a few. Flash forward a few years, and Hollywood is snapping up any reasonably well-established franchise they can lay their grubby little hands on. Their calculation was: well known brand name = ready-made market. Having churned out comic book adaptations for the last few years, with varying degrees of success, it was inevitable the toy market would also benefit from this frenzy for guaranteed money-earning properties. And Transformers had everything: a rich history of money-making via a variety of media, not to mention a fanbase of several years standing (numerous versions came and went after the initial craze died away; Beast Wars for example). I can just see their line of thinking: “Suckers like me who remember the original toys and stories would surely pay to see this film, plus they might even bring along their kids who can get hooked on all the new marketing gimmicks – sorry, tie-ins – we put out. Eeeeeasy money.”

Sorry if this all sounds quite cynical; I was over the moon when they officially announced it. Even the hiring of Michael ‘Armageddon’ Bay couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm that much. I can’t say I prefer the new look Transformers to the old ones, but I guess some changes were inevitable. When I finally saw the movie, I really liked it. My jaw dropped on several occasions – no mean feat in these days of CGI. But the main thrill was finally to see the Transformers come to life on the big screen. And it really did feel like a Transformers story: maybe it was Steven Speilberg’s influence as executive producer, but the story had a very 80s vibe to it, being told from a kid’s perspective. I had niggles of course, like any fanboy: the action was occasionally confusing, we saw far too little of Cybertron, and Optimus Prime had a touch too much humour for my liking (why is “My bad” so prevalent in scripts at the moment?). But it got far more right that it got wrong, and as an introduction to a new universe, it worked great. And with over $300m in the bank in the U.S. alone, it worked financially too.

Now, when I walk down the high street, I see Transformers merchandise everywhere. It’s suddenly cool to like them again. I can’t explain why it is both weird and fantastic to see little ‘uns pointing up at toys of Optimus Prime, desperate for their mum to buy it. Maybe I feel vindicated in some perculiar way. Is this the way all hardcore geeks feel when their beloved property of choice gets the Hollywood treatment?

Anyway, who cares? Thanks to Hollywood’s creatively bankrupt commercial sensibilities, which often come under fire for producing brain-dead entertainment (and rightly so of course), I actually got to see my dream up on the big screen. Let’s hope a sequel is on the way. Thank you Hollywood!

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