One of the things that Back to the Future II got kinda wrong was how 80’s Nostalgia would manifest itself. The 80’s diner was a cute idea, itself a kind of reflection of the 50’s diner nostalgia thing, but since the 50’s diner was so prevalent in the 80’s, the nostalgia of 80’s diners is itself nostalgia for the 50’s. So you go to a diner that has a mélange of all sorts of “old stuff” on the walls (The 3 Stooges, Betty Grable’s famous pose, Marilyn Monroe, the Rat Pack) and waitpeople wearing poodle skirts and saucy pieces of “flair”. It’s not you missing these things, it’s remembering the people who missed these things and missing *THEM*.
I imagine that if you took a person from Eisenhower’s era and plopped him into Gunther Toody’s, s/he’d be some mixture of confused and amused (conmused? anfused?) at the circus going on around him/her and then baffled when told “yeah, we’re trying to recreate the diner down the street from you.”
And then arrest her or him when s/he tries to light up.
While on my overseas flight, I had the opportunity to watch the recent remake of The Karate Kid (itself a mashup/remix of the original The Karate Kid I & II) and wash in another version of this strange nostalgia.
While it’s possible to just watch and enjoy the movie as a movie about an underdog who moves to a new place, tries to make new friends, falls in love, gets beat up, gets trained to fight in a tournament, then (spoiler!) wins it (in pretty much the same way that it’s possible to go to a 50’s diner and merely order a burger and then eat it), it’s also a movie about how you watched the original Karate Kid back in 1984.
So remember watching this movie with one or more of your parents? Well, now you can watch the remake with your kids.
They’ve got all kinds of easter eggs for people who have seen both movies… they have a callback to the catching a fly with chopsticks, the meeting between “love interest” and “bully” was pretty close to identical, the “hey, a school that teaches self-defense!” scene, the bad call involving getting water on the bully followed by the handyman saving the day, the setup of the tournament, the big reveal that “wax on, wax off” is actually training, the reveal of the handyman’s grief, the tournament itself… all are variants that feel rewarding for people who saw the original but have been understandably updated for a new take on the story (but move the story along in a way transparent to kids who never saw the first ones).
But there is one serious departure from the original that really, really changes the film. Ralph Macchio was playing a senior in high school (he was 23ish at the time but looked about 17ish) and Jaden Smith was a 12 year old who was playing a 12 year old.
It’s one thing to see a 17 year old get in a fist fight and get his butt kicked. Hey, the guy is pretty much a man at that point (and doubly so when you know that the 17 year old is really a 23 year old). Jaden Smith was 12 getting his butt kicked good and hard. Prepubescent kids punching each other in the face is weird and creepy in a way that grownups getting beat up is not.
As such, the sequel doesn’t work. Not because the script isn’t tight (it’s pretty much just as tight as the original).
It’s because the kids hitting each other are 12.
It turns the nostalgia sour. I’m sure that the kids watching it wouldn’t be bothered by it… just the grownups who are going back to experience it on the different levels of movie watching available only to them.
So… what are you reading and/or watching?