New York Times
In Hollywood, an â€™80s Moment
By MICHAEL CIEPLY
Published: March 29, 2012
No. Weirdly, 2012.
Digital entertainment options and social media might be changing the movies. But Hollywood is sloshing in its Hot Tub Time Machine with a cluster of projects that recall an era when hair was big, heroes had biceps and the stars who are returning to the limelight were a lot younger.
Billy Crystalâ€™s return as the Oscars host, it turns out, was just a warm-up act.
For the first time in a decade, Mr. Crystal, 64, is a leading man. He plays opposite Bette Midler, 66, as Artie Decker, a grandpa who takes charge of his daughterâ€™s three children in â€œParental Guidance,â€ set for release by 20th Century Fox in November.
Itâ€™s all part of a retro mood that has revved up the careers of baby-boom performers while providing comfort food for the audience. At a time of plunging DVD sales and an up-and-down box office, Hollywood is doubling back on past hits in search of profits. Often the remakes feature familiar stars playing iconic roles, like Bruce Willis, 57, who is preparing for yet another â€œDie Hardâ€ film, his fifth.
These favorites and their stars are making a comeback not just because they are â€” or were â€” proven winners with an aging audience, but also because they mean something to a new generation of filmmakers.
â€œThe people who decide what movies get made are now, like me, in their early 40s, and theyâ€™re turning back to what they grew up with,â€ said Jonathan M. Goldstein. Mr. Goldstein is co-writing and codirecting an updated version of â€œVacationâ€ (1983) and is hoping to land Chevy Chase, now 68, in a reprise of his classic role as the bumbling traveler Clark Griswold.
â€œThereâ€™s nothing new under the sun,â€ said Thomas Pollack, a film producer who was the chairman of Universal Pictures in 1987. Mr. Pollock said the main change in the film industryâ€™s penchant for the past was its love affair with the â€œreboot,â€ a reimagining of an old film, like â€œVacation,â€ that might open the door to a new string of sequels.
Mr. Crystalâ€™s new movie is the kind of heartwarming, wisecracking comedy that used to be written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, the funny guys who turned out â€œParenthoodâ€ back in the 1989. In fact, the script, based on a story by Mr. Crystal, was rewritten by Mr. Ganz, who is 63, and Mr. Mandel, 62.
â€œThis was, in a sense, a throwback sort of thing,â€ Mr. Ganz said of the polish he and Mr. Mandel did on a screenplay written by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse. The mission, he explained, was to add depth and stronger relationships among characters â€” qualities that these days might seem old-fashioned but that were hallmarks of their work on Mr. Crystalâ€™s â€œCity Slickersâ€ and â€œMr. Saturday Night.â€
It was probably inevitable that an array of film and television projects from 1987, on their silver anniversary, should be in development and working their way toward the screen again.
A new version of â€œDirty Dancing,â€ which made hot August nights even hotter when it was released in the summer of 1987, is in active development at Lionsgate, according to Julie Fontaine, a spokeswoman for the studio. And a retooled â€œRoboCop,â€ another of that summerâ€™s hits, is in preproduction at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which plans to release it in August 2013.
The cyborg RoboCop is still trying to clean up Detroit, though details are scarce. â€œWe are not able to reveal anything else at this time,â€ said Jayne S. Zelman, a spokeswoman for MGM.
None of the current throwbacks are likely to match the appeal of fresher, youth-driven movies like â€œThe Hunger Games,â€ which took in $155 million for Lionsgate last weekend, or the â€œTwilightâ€ series, whose worldwide ticket sales have exceeded $2.5 billion.
A remake of â€œArthur,â€ a fondly remembered romantic comedy from 1981, found few takers when it was released with Russell Brand in the title role last year. â€œ21 Jump Street,â€ based on a television show whose pilot dates to 1987, has done better, with over $70 million in ticket sales during its first 10 days.
But those of an age to recall Mr. Crystal when he was still a goofy heartthrob, Harry, to Meg Ryanâ€™s painfully cute Sally â€” in 1989s â€œWhen Harry Met Sallyâ€ â€” do not visit theaters much now.
According to statistics released by the Motion Picture Association of America last week, viewers over 60 make up 19 percent of the United States population, but account for only 13 percent of ticket sales. And those between the ages of 50 and 59 are 14 percent of the populace, yet buy only 10 percent of the tickets.
Still, some of the stars from the 1980s are determined to show their continued vitality â€” and none more so than Mr. Schwarzenegger, who put his film career aside to serve as governor of California from 2003 through 2011.
Mr. Schwarzeneggerâ€™s comeback hit a snag last May, when his marriage to Maria Shriver broke up amid revelations about a long-running affair with a housekeeper. Movie plans were suspended in the uproar.
But not for long. Mr. Schwarzenegger, 64, is now set for a cameo appearance with Sylvester Stallone in â€œThe Expendables 2,â€ expected in theaters in August, and has more substantial roles in â€œThe Last Stand,â€ â€œUnknown Soldierâ€ and (again with Mr. Stallone) â€œThe Tomb,â€ which are all intended for release in 2013.
â€œHeâ€™s on every page, or weâ€™re making the wrong film,â€ said Albert S. Ruddy, a producer of â€œUnknown Soldier,â€ in which Mr. Schwarzeneggerâ€™s character harks back to his muscular roles in â€œPredatorâ€ and â€œThe Running Man,â€ both from 1987. â€œHeâ€™s going to be a killer. Get out of the way,â€ said Mr. Ruddy.
Mr. Chase, meanwhile, made an appearance in â€œHot Tub Time Machine,â€ a 2010 comedy about a time trip back to 1986.
Now he is being pursued by Mr. Goldstein and his filmmaking partner John Francis Daley, who hope to wrangle him into their new â€œVacationâ€ movie, in which Clark Griswoldâ€™s grown son, Rusty, takes his own family on the rocky road to Walley World.
But that assumes Mr. Chase can spare the time from a new collaboration he just announced â€” with Dan Aykroyd.