I’ve stated it before, and I’ll say it again. Nostalgia is a potent tool in the world of commerce. Selling nostalgia is like selling emotions and feelings back to an individual. Those are powerful and emotionally addicting things. Many times we long for the feeling of a carefree child-like world free of adult stresses and burdens. So when we see the experiences we partook in during those simpler times, we subconsciously associate those things with a chunk of time we can never have back. So we entertain the ideas that sparked our happiness, joy, and entertainment as kids in order to have a small piece of those feelings again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it has nothing to with one’s enduring fandom, as well. But there is a reason that products of a nostalgic nature are so damn successful. Most of us probably felt that way for two hours when we sat in the theater for Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the first time a few years back. Lucasfilm wasn’t just selling a new cinematic adventure in a familiar universe. For a few generations, it was much more than that.
To paint the picture here, I’ll get down onto a more personal level with regards to my experience with nostalgia. As a seven-year-old, dinosaurs made quite the splash in the giant ocean of my mind and imagination. That was all spurred on by my second-grade teacher as she showed the class a few short clips from the film Jurassic Park. It was 1994, not even a year after the film was released in theaters, and I was awestruck by the might and power of these creatures. I’ll never forget that day. My teacher, Mrs. Main, wheeled the rickety metal cart holding the television to the center of the classroom. She then told us that for the next few weeks, we’d be learning about life on our planet millions of years ago for our science portion of the class. As she began talking about the legendary creatures, my mind began to wander as it always did at that age and, of course, I wasn’t paying attention. Many of my teachers suggested to my parents that I had ADHD and should be treated. But that never happened. I think I simply had the case of “young boy syndrome”. You know, that completely natural thing most boys experience (like my four-year-old son is now) where the powers that be saw fit to grace us with an inordinate amount of energy which, in turn, produced the side effect of daydreaming in boring situations.
However, in an unusual and atypical moment, she asked a classmate if he was able to bring the film. His name was Matt, and apparently, his family had a copy of the movie Jurassic Park freshly out on VHS. Mrs. Main had apparently asked him if he could see about bringing it into class as there was a portion of the movie she wanted to share with us. In my mind, Mrs. Main was as dull and boring as a second-grade teacher could get, but this was totally outside of her spectrum for normal daily operations. So, I perked right up. Keep in mind, this was a time when the internet was hardly relevant as home-use/application was just barely catching on. And I must not have been watching the right channels on TV because I had never heard of Jurassic Park before, let alone seen a commercial for it. After fast-forwarding through the movie to show us us a few clips from the film (that’s right kids, we had to fast forward through all of our movies if we wanted to get somewhere specific), Mrs. Main once again pulled a fast one on us and let us have fun watching the infamous T-Rex scene where she breaks free from the fence and terrorizes the kids, Dr. Grant, and Ian Malcom. Mrs. Main, of course, cut off the show before we were able to witness the T-Rex “eating people” as she put it (which I’d later learn was the cowardly lawyer who ran to hide in the outhouse). But something about that thrilling experience just absolutely captivated me, and from that point forward I was literally obsessed with all things dinosaurs. Sure, that obsession eventually faded a couple years after the The Lost World: Jurassic Park released in 1997 where I shared, yet, another memorable moment from my childhood with my mom as she picked me up from school super early, took me to Burger King for lunch, bought me one of the collectible ‘Lost World’ watches, and then took me to see the movie. But, after entering my pre-teen years, I moved on to other things. Even though, I eventually saw Jurassic Park III, I wrote off the movie at its release because I was far too “cool” for dinosaurs then.
While the movie wasn’t a remake, I was absolutely one of the launch day ticket purchases for the 3D IMAX showing of Jurassic World. I’m getting prepared for the sequel to that this week, as well. My son and I have spent more time than I care to admit ogling all the new cool toys from the Jurassic World line in stores. And yes, even just a couple days ago, I went out into the garage and unboxed my old Jurassic Park toys to play with my son. We’re even thinking about buying that enormous “Colossal T-Rex” toy priced at $49.99. Both my son and I want it. Yes, I know. Man-child alert.
The point is, there is huge selling power in nostalgia. The world of remakes is only getting far more bloated. Framing it in that sort of language makes it seem like a negative thing, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. The concept of a remake has heavily overtaken the film industry in the last decade. Many beloved properties from our youth are getting the modern-age treatment that typically involves three pillars of construct: an elevation of the script and more current/realistic dynamics between characters to adapt for the present day, updates to the visual realization of the scenery and characters, and an entirely new score or soundtrack. I’d argue, however, that successful remakes offer one additional dimension. Usually, a successful remake offers alternate or new perspectives to the same story in order to engage a devout fanbase as well as the crowd that might want to avoid retreading familiar territory.
Video games have not been immune to the remake surge. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen some of the largest names in the industry being brought back to a familiar, yet older and richer fan base. Of course, I use the term “richer” loosely comparing meager allowances one might have made as a child versus maintaining full-time careers into adulthood. To our wonderous surprise, the classic and highly revered turn-based RPG, Final Fantasy VII, from the classic Playstation days was shown to us as a remake concept a couple E3’s ago. Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet & Clank, Shadow of the Colossus, and now Spryo have also received the remake treatment.
One remake at this year’s E3, however, stood out to me: Resident Evil 2. This game was my introduction to Sony’s platform years ago. After some consistent prodding from a friend, I scraped together some lawn mowing jobs in order to purchase my own Playstation console. After that happened, I largely pushed the Nintendo 64 that took up most of my game time to the side. The first games that I bought were Dino Crisis and Resident Evil 2. Resident Evil 2 wasn’t only my first introduction to the franchise, but it also was my first introduction to survival horror. The game genuinely creeped me out showing me some of the most repugnant and monstrous creatures I’ve ever seen like the Licker, a T-virus abomination where the original host is basically turned inside out and grows a disgustingly long tongue to whip your ass with. At the time, the horror and the story of survival were the most visceral things I’d ever seen in the space of video games. After completing the game for the first time, I continued to play six ways from Sunday. That’s right, there were multiple ways to play this game and see different aspects of the story. A player could endure the first narrative with the character of Leon, and then go back and play the game with Claire on the same save file. However, this time Claire would actually be engaging in different story elements parallel to Leon’s story. Then, an all-new file could be started where Claire would work through the first narrative of the story (the same one Leon did in the first scenario). Playing through again as Leon on the same save file would then enable the player to go through the alternate perspective like Claire did in the first scenario. Each time, the dialogue and interactions were different depending on the character. When all was said and done, the game could be played in four alternate ways. And I played all of them.
Countless nights were spent at a friend’s house in my seventh-grade year playing through this game, both of us freaking out at every twist and turn. Eventually, I’d purchase the first title in the series, Resident Evil. The game was certainly fun, but nothing like my initial experience with Resident Evil 2. Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 7 managed to recapture the magic of Resident Evil 2 by simply reinventing the franchise and adding a sense of discovery to the horror. These titles weren’t simply rehashes of their predecessors and managed to present the feeling of unpredictability mixed with dread. It’s like going to the theater to see Friday the 13th Part III. You knew exactly what to expect and that’s what you received. No “sense of discovery” as I mentioned above. Resident Evil 4 gave us the new over-the-shoulder view, a new enemy born out of a combination of a creepy cult-like atmosphere, and a new virus that created different abominations that we previously new. Resident Evil 7, once again, changed the perspective, but this time, to first-person. The enemies were altered, yet again, in an entirely new experience. Enemies were fewer, but far more deadly. Additionally, aside from the few mold creatures we encountered, the other enemies the player dealt with were enemies we knew by name. They were once a family but had been driven mad by a virus. The theme evoked the horror of a backward home like the one in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was again something fresh that we could discover for ourselves.
A remake presents the opportunity for the audience of the original to rediscover the title while inviting newcomers. It’s been two decades since the original Resident Evil 2 was released. The key for the developers is to present the game in a manner that is suitable to modern audiences, yet, not retreading the old title footstep by footstep all while still capturing the heart of the game. I’ve watched a couple gameplay videos from E3 of the title, and, from this vantage point, I feel like the developers are going to achieve that. Of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure until we have our hands on the game. However, the Racoon Police Department is back in all of its glory but with a far edgier appearance. It’s awesome to see that the game is still set in the 1990’s in keeping with the Resident Evil timeline. The computers and automobiles are clearly indicative of that time period. However, there’s easily a bit of trepidation that one will experience as the RPD is explored from one dark, grisly corridor to the next. I was delighted to see horrific scenes that weren’t part of the original game, such as the desperate attempt Leon makes to help pull an officer from under a shutter as the sound of zombies were growling and pulling him from the other side. Leon succeeds in keeping the officer on his side of the doorway, well half of him at least, as Leon slid the now-dead officer with entrails streaming out of the mid-section of the body back into the hallway with nothing below the torso in sight. This is the sort of thing I was talking about. It offers a new perspective providing something unexpected while still keeping the heart of the series intact.
This is a remake that has the power to reinvigorate the nostalgia I felt years ago while modernizing the scale of production behind it. I absolutely can’t wait for January.