Stranger Things: A Modern Blast From the Past
Stranger Things is a nostalgic romp that brings the scares and Jaws references. I just watched all eight episodes and I think they are the best thing on television since True Detective season one (Fargo season two is close). A lot of the press surrounding the show has focused on how influenced it is by films like Jaws, Evil Dead, The Thing and anything Stephen King (King Steve). I get that it has many influences, but in a day and age of remakes, reboots, spin-offs, sequels, prequels and spiritual sequels I like that we got an original story that wears its influences on its sleeve and is unapologetic about it.
What I find most impressive is how The Duffer brothers were able to create/write/direct something that didn’t feel like a cheap imitation of what they loved when they were growing up. They took the greatest hits of their childhood and formed their own story. It would be too easy to create something without a soul and simply call it nostalgia (Jurassic World). Instead, they crafted likable characters, new worlds and a killer soundtrack in order to surprise the world. Stranger Things feel familiar but a lot of it is unexpected. I’d compare it to The Rolling Stones covering The Beatles. You know the songs, but it all feels new because we are hearing different interpretations of the songs.
Stephen King appreciates the copying.
Stranger Things centers around the hunt for a young boy who was dragged into a place called “the upside down” by a badass monster (viva la practical effects!!!). The ensuing manhunt brings together an eclectic group of characters who all have moments to shine. Whether it be the boy’s mom Joyce (Winona Ryder), brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) or his best friends Mike, Dustin and Lucas (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin) they all have something to do. Add in local police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and likable teenagers Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Steve (Joe Keery) and you have a neat ensemble of people you like.
My favorite character is 11 (Millie Bobby Brown). 11 has special “Professor X” powers and was raised to become a weapon by her “papa” Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). However, something goes terribly awry, and she escapes from the evil government facility (very Amblin) and gets taken in by the trio of young kids. Throughout the show 11 puts herself in a lot of hurt to help others. She has seen things nobody else should see yet she keeps plugging along to help others and enjoy some Eggo waffles. Millie Bobby Brown has one of the most emotive faces I’ve ever seen. A lot is asked of her and she knocks everything out of the park. She is the true breakout star of Stranger Things and her character is going to become a fan favorite.
I don’t want to get into spoiler territory because watching it unsullied was an absolute delight. I am still amazed at the pacing of the episodes and I kept expecting the energy to lag. The eight-episode season was a wise decision because there isn’t enough time for things to drag. I really like Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones but I’ve always felt that their 13-episode seasons were too long. Things get drawn out in the middle, and it seems like the creators are treading water to fill all the episodes. Stranger Things plows headlong towards a pretty great conclusion.
Stranger Things is drenched in 1980s set design and the soundtrack was carefully chosen to draw nostalgic responses from the audience. I had a lot of fun picking out the film references and my favorite moment involves bicycles and something flying in the air. The score is a nice call back to the days when John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, Escape From New York) was crushing synth scores that are still popular today. Check out the opening score and I guarantee you will want this blaring in your car.
I loved every second of Stranger Things and I applaud the Duffer brothers for creating something more than a bland copy. Watch Stranger Things now and appreciate every second of the 80s (and some 70s) awesomeness!