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This past weekend the 2016 San Diego Comic Con took place. On the biggest attendance day of the con, one of the events was a panel celebrating the 30th anniversary of Aliens, released on July 20, 1986. Seven thousand fans sat inside Hall H cheering on star Sigourney Weaver, director James Cameron and another half-dozen of the cast and producing talent behind Aliens.
On one hand, it's incredible to think that, 30 years after the release of Aliens, it would still prove to be an incredibly popular and often quoted movie. The impact of Aliens on Hollywood's sequel factory and action/adventure landscape cannot be dismissed.
On the other hand, can you imagine going to the Comic Con of 1986 and attending a panel celebrating the 30th anniversary of another sci-fi movie that's often credited for elevating its genre, Forbidden Planet? I can't help but think that a Forbidden Planet panel held in '86 would have gotten a few hundred people going to check it out -- and that's a maybe.
Pop culture is now mainstream -- we all surely realized that. Geeks won; among the top box office movies in the past twelve months is the second sequel to Captain America movie, a Deadpool movie, the long prophesized seventh Star Wars film, several CG animated films. There's over a dozen TV shows that derive from comic book properties, and one that's broken cable viewership records (The Walking Dead). San Diego Comic Con now attracts more than 150,000 attendees. You can dress up and cosplay a character and not get weird looks from strangers; what was weird is now the new normal.
But if geek culture won, why doesn't it feel like a victory? Let me voice what I've been feeling for a while now: the geek culture isn't evolving as fast as it was when it was marginalized forty years ago. We've entered a time of stagnation. For all the greatness there is to get a seventh Star Wars movie, or a new Ghostbusters movie, or a third Planet of the Apes movie in the second rebooted timeline of that franchise, we're not experiencing the thrill of discovering a new IP like we did with Jaws back in 1976, Star Wars in 1977, 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, and so on. There are less of those discoveries happening, and if we do get one, it's more likely to be because Hollywood wants to mirror the success of something similar (witness the TV creation of The Walking Dead, which happened several years after zombies became popular in the early 2000s' cinema culture.)
I like having a seventh Star Wars movie, and a spinoff movie about stealing the plans for the Death Star. But unless Hollywood changes its course, we're going to be celebrating more anniversaries of established universes and superheroes, and never seeing a new superhero creation outside of Marvel or DC, or a space opera universe that can give Star Wars and Star Trek a run for their money.
I remember back to being a kid having a single-digit age. Back in the 1970s, there was no internet and no TV shows focusing on geek culture. Your source for this stuff was late night shows of old movies, or the occasional B-movie variety film released in theaters, and your monthly go-to source, fan culture magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland.
More often than not, mags like Famous Monsters and Starlog had cover and inside stories about older movies and TV shows. I remember picking up some sci-fi magazine around the time that the shlocky Laserblast movie from '78 was out. Inside of it was a big article about the weapons and devices made for the original Star Trek TV show. That kind of article was more the norm than not because until the arrival of Star Wars in 1977 and the recognization that audiences would pay to see new sci-fi, it was more a retrospective of the good stuff you liked watching a few years ago, or could watch in reruns on TV.
And that seems to be where geek culture is back to today, albeit on a different level thanks to technology advances and massively more content to consume. Still, we're talking about making a direct sequel to Aliens while a sequel to the prequel of Alien is in production. What I'm trying to say is: where is the new Alien of The Thing or Blade Runner movie experience? It's not like new ideas don't exist because they do in bucketloads, from novels to games to indie comic books to Hollywood spec scripts. It's that the corporate machine isn't making these new IPs, and the consumer doesn't have a hunger for it. Right now, that sci-fi geekdom hunger is being sated by Captain America 4 and Star Wars Spinoff 12. And I don't see that trend diminishing; in fact, I see it increasing.
This isn't something new. Look throughout history and you'll see that when the minority becomes the mainstream, it eventually becomes stagnant. Something new and different then becomes the outsider and starts to attract individuals who seem different and weird to what the mainstream likes. My question then becomes: what will that new thing be, or is there a finite amount of genres to go around? Will it be cowboy stories that start to gain their own niche fandom? Has it already started happening with manga, and that will eventually become the new mainstream pop culture train to ride on?
Robby the Robot wanted me to ask: who's programming the 60th anniversary panel for Forbidden Planet?
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