Aliens, sequels and even stranger things: predicting 2017's cultural highlights

The new year promises a long-awaited Blade Runner sequel, the return of Phoenix, an umpteenth Star Trek reboot and an ongoing sense of FOMO

The year 2017 promises an embarrassment of riches in the arts and culture scene that will make 2016 look like the year William Howard Taft broke the bathtub in the White House because he was too fat.

Yes, 2017 is littered with retread movies, nostalgia-fueled musical comebacks, warmed-over sitcoms, and a film based on the little yellow faces we use to communicate instead of words – but such is the nature of the modern world we live in. We are spoiled for choice in this multi-platform, multimedia culture. The downside of choice is that finding quality entertainment in 2017 is similar to a child digging through the treat box at the dentist’s office after sitting quietly through a particularly painful procedure. Underneath all the toothbrushes and healthy candy options, there’s a Snickers bar in there somewhere.

In this analogy, 2017’s upcoming CGI-animated feature The Boss Baby – a film about a baby that wears a miniature suit – is one of those tiny plastic treasure chests that you’re supposed to put a loose tooth into. No one wants it, but there’s plenty of them to go around. Still, there’s much to look forward to at the multiplex. The final Hugh Jackman Wolverine movie looks like a real departure from the neon-colored boredom of the last X-Men film. Even if a sequel to Blade Runner sounds like the absolute worst idea in film history, the choice of Arrival director Denis Villeneuve to helm said sequel (and its intriguing teaser trailer) have given me hope that it will stick this impossible landing.

The new year might end up being a banner year for the director of the original Blade Runner, Ridley Scott. Besides producing Blade Runner 2049, he’s also the director of the latest Alien prequel, Alien: Covenant. I’m sure I speak for most Alien fans when I say that I stay up nights praying that this will be a return to form after the lackadaisical Prometheus. There’s a litany of upcoming blockbusters that have the similarly unenviable task of making up for a shoddy franchise predecessor. Spider-Man: Homecoming has to wipe the taste of Amazing Spider-Man 2 from our collective artistic palate. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales has to make up for a wholly misguided fourth installment that was even more creatively bankrupt than the usual Hollywood fare.

The flip side of that dilemma is what faces Disney, Lucasfilm, and director Rian Johnson. How do you top one of the top five biggest movies of all time? Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a juggernaut that satisfied both diehard fans and casual observers of the saga. It cemented JJ Abrams as the franchise whisperer, someone who reinvented and resuscitated three separate movie series (Mission: Impossible, Star Trek and now Star Wars). Johnson has to top the spectacle of Force Awakens, continue to scratch the nostalgic itch of that movie’s fans, and simultaneously dismiss the voices of critics who bemoaned Force Awakens’ reliance on the narrative tropes of the original Star Wars trilogy. Good luck.

Speaking of science fiction, Star Trek returns to TV in the spring with Star Trek: Discovery, a prequel to the first Trek series that will star an ensemble cast led by Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green. It will premiere on CBS, then move to that network’s streaming service, All Access. This will be a major test of how many separate streaming subscriptions the average viewer is willing to pay for. If you already pony up for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, and Showtime Anytime, minor services like CBS All Access, Seeso, Crackle, and others might start to feel like overkill. Each service is looking for its version of a killer app. HBO has Game of Thrones coming back later in the spring to move (and maintain) subscriptions. Netflix has its family of Marvel shows, Stranger Things season two, Master of None season two, and the long-awaited return of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It remains to be seen if Star Trek (and a Good Wife spinoff) will be enough to cut through the cacophony of choices in the premium cable and streaming category.

The music industry is also fighting for your subscription dollar, pushing its wares through the squabbling rivals Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal. Just like their TV counterparts, streaming music services are counting on exclusive content to convince potential customers that they have the superior product. Even if the music business seems slightly more democratic thanks to platforms like YouTube to get content in front of consumers, the money is still in the big names that motivate subscription. You probably won’t be able to get Taylor Swift’s new album on Spotify. The GOOD Music compilation Cruel Winter, from Kanye West, will probably be a Tidal exclusive for at least a few weeks. The industry hasn’t changed all that much, in a structural sense. Tentpole releases from major artists are still the thing that allows labels to stay profitable and for smaller acts to survive. And just like in the movie and TV mediums, nostalgia is a major player. New albums from LCD Soundsystem, Neutral Milk Hotel, Phoenix, Gorillaz, Björk and others will be major events for their comparatively modest fanbases, but those fanbases will be mobilized to consume their new work regardless of its quality. Such is the power of the brand to motivate people to part with their income, whether it’s Star Trek, Nine Inch Nails or Planet of the Apes. We want what’s familiar above all else, and we want it seamlessly beamed to each and every one of our many devices simultaneously. And we want it now.


Dave Schilling

The GuardianTramp

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