By Niall Anderson
Mostly Film noticed a few years ago that a lot of what was coming into the cinema and onto TV was strongly retrospective in tone. There were lots of beards and frock coats. There were a surprising number of films (well, two) about fin de siècle magicians. There were violently bollocky reworkings of ancient history (300, Apocalypto). Period dramas – from Far From Heaven up to Mad Men – became lavishly bourgeois and finicky: the pleasure was in the detail or nowhere at all. We had just begun a new century and here we were, as a culture, looking back all the time.
2011 has been a kind of apotheosis of this trend. You can hardly move for birth-of-a-civilisation type films: whether in the fantastical mode of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, or the metaphysical mode of The Tree of Life. And you can hardly breathe for idle, bean-flicking examinations of the recent bourgeois past – like the Spielberg pastiche of Super 8 or one of this week’s big hitters, One Day. Remember when life was, like, innocent?
It would be nice to report that this trend looks like it’s going to end. It would be even nicer to suggest that Cowboys & Aliens is a deft deconstruction of both the Western and the frontierist SF sagas that superseded it, but it’s not:
We’ve had a decade of this shit now. Aren’t you a bit sick of it? If you’re not, Conan The Barbarian – also out this week – may be the broadsword to the skull that finally finishes you off. Here we have a perfect storm of null retrospectivism. It’s a remake; it has a readymade comic-book history; it has some sort of clash of civilisations guff in it; and it makes the left side of your brain have a little stroke just thinking about it:
Conan is the kind of film that makes you doubt the utility of the phrase “what’s next?” In a world where Conan can exist, there is no next: there is only more.
All of which is by way of introducing next week’s Mostly Film, which is entirely devoted to the past, present and – yes! – future of cinema. We’re so modern and future-minded, one of the articles may even be in 3D!