Look anywhere in movies, on TV or in pop culture and you’d think it’s the 1980s all over again.
Stranger Things is a smash for Netflix. Classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Ghostbusters are being homaged and namechecked in video games and TV shows. Even the stars who defined the era like Kevin Costner and Michael Keaton are back in vogue.
But the movement is reaching fever pitch with the release of Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg’s new movie about a VR world of the near future where the inhabitants indulge their love of everything that made entertianment in the 1980s great.
But why is the 80s just so hot right now? Ernest Cline, who wrote the book and co-wrote the script, thinks it’s because no matter our age, we tend to idolise the entertainment era we grew up in, and it was no different when his formative experiences came about.
“When I was growing up there were a lot of coming-of-age movies set in the 50s and early 60s like American Graffiti or Stand By Me,” the 45-year-old explains,”The filmmakers of that time were telling stories that were nostalgic about their own childhoods.”
But he also thinks there’s a direct throughline from the 80s Hollywood heyday to the way we entertain ourselves today. So much culture is digitised because of gaming and CGI movies, and Cline points out he was born the year Pong (the video game that popularised the electronic age) was invented.
“It was a unique decade because of different aspects of technology,” he says.”We were part of the first generation to have home computers and use a modem to dial out and connect with another computer – that was the beginning of the internet age. The other thing that profoundly changed my life was the introduction of the VCR. I was no longer restricted to my local cinema. Now, I had access to the entire library of movies going back to the silent era.”
There’s also an example of quite lovely symmetry that Spielberg would sign on to the film adaptaion of Cline’s book – the author thinks the 80s were a golden age of cinema thanks to filmmakers like Spielberg and contemporaries like George Lucas and Robert Zemeckis.”They invented the blockbuster, and there was this huge string of amazing movies that are still getting reboots or sequels even now.”
Cline’s co-screenwriter Zak Penn (The Avengers, X-Men: The Last Stand) thinks the 80s – like all entertainment eras – were the natural progression from what had come before.
“[The 80s] was a point at which entertainment changed rapidly,” he says. “The 70s is considered a golden age of filmmaking because it was about very personal film makers operating on smaller scale, but after that, pop and mass culture started to blend into high culture, if you will. Steven had the best example where ET was the most successful movie of all time but it was also a great movie. It was proof a popular movie or game could also be something of value. The 80s was the locus point for a lot of that stuff.”
Born to be bad
After starting on TV’s Special Squad at 15, Ben Mendelsohn was an Australian film industry veteran long before conquering Hollywood in David Michod’s acclaimed Animal Kingdom.
With a role as an imperial officer in Star Wars: Rogue One and a Spielberg movie under his belt, Hollywood seems to have decided the 48-year-old Melbourne native is its new go-to bad guy. In Ready Player One he plays the CEO of an evil corporation hoping to get its hands on the VR world of The Oasis, and shares the secret about how to play an effective villain;”you basically play them like they’re the good guy,” he says.”You’re dealing with an emotional palette that’s much more common to a normal human – resentment, anger, frustration, vengeance, all that sort of stuff.
Not that Mendelsohn doesn’t think his character, Nolan Sorrento, isn’t a larger than life baddie.”Look at his avatar [in the movie]. This guy has been self worshipping too much. His avatar is him – he could be anything and what does he want to be? A more muscular version of himself.”