1980’s nostalgia can be a blessing or a burden, it’s an outlet that studios desperately try to tap into, with the results being a bit of a mixed bag sometimes. But what happens when the combination is gotten just right? Well, “Stranger Things” would fall into that little group.
Taking place during the early 80’s, a young boy named Will vanishes during the night without a trace. His friends as well as the local Sheriff try to find him, but the circumstances behind his disappearance grow stranger (ahem) with each passing day. Things complicate even further when a mysterious young girl only known as Eleven shows up, with a lot of questions about where she came from. But everything starts to get linked together as the mystery unfolds, and the threat becomes greater the further everyone journeys.
This eight-episode original series on Netflix came from out of nowhere for me to be honest, until my Facebook page blew up with my friends raving for what a success it was. Which seems odd when you look at the experience of the director and producers, which is a little thin. But there’s some promising background in some TV shows, and everyone has to have that one breakout hit. And this attempt takes the form of a blend between Stephen Spielberg (ET, The Poltergeist mainly), and Stephen King. This strange combination of the great childhood Sci Fi adventure, with the harsh and gritty TV adaptations of King, leads to something that feels incredibly familiar, and yet at the same time, kind of refreshing.
And boy, does this show adore the 80’s. Not just the usual tropes of the synthesised music and questionable fashion, but how it lovingly recreates some of the biggest movies of that decade. The relations to ET are instantly recognisable, as are those to The Thing, and The Poltergeist. The locations feel slightly run down and old – exactly as the should look. There’s almost nothing that looks organised or “new”, the decor is dated but fits right in to the locations they reside within.
The same goes for the caricatures. You have the bullies, the drunk Sheriff, the one who is starting to lose her mind, the nerds who band together and are closest of friends, the girl starting to get serious with her boyfriend, the boyfriend who seems untrustworthy. Etc etc. But where in some of Stephen Kind TV adaptations where these characters are just hateful examples of human beings, here you get some reasoning behind why they have become who they are. How their backgrounds have turned them into what they resemble now, past tragedies, the struggles of current life, or the pressures placed upon them. Where at first I was worried that I would have to just follow behind these unlikable characters, instead they became far more three-dimensional and more interesting as well. I cannot stress enough how much this improved the show as a whole.
It is wonderful to watch how the show ebbs and flows between particular genre inspirations, constantly keeping the overall narrative of interest and always leaving questions you have just out of reach, but but close enough to know they’ll be answered soon. The editing keeps it all running on time too, which is critical for a show with so much to get through in a small season run. And the actors are a wonderful assortment of talent, they give so much life to the show. The kids especially throw in some great performances, such as Finn Wolfhard (Mike), Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven), and Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas). The group with which we spend a lot of time hanging around are such a band of geeks, you just have to admire how they can stand against whatever is thrown their way. Winona Ryder as the mother Joyce, and David Harbour as the Sheriff give the outstanding adult performances, with their characters having some of the most interesting arcs and major sequences. Winana in particular is incredible when you consider how difficult the mannerisms and emotions were for her to act out. If she doesn’t get some award nominations at the very least for this, I will consider it a great snub against her name.
As for the Duffer Brothers who created, wrote, and directed this series, all I can say is… where have they been all these years? This is showing off far greater technical prowess and camera skills than you would be led to believe initially. They capture some beautiful shots using relatively little, especially in the scenes within the room covered in light. That was an inspired visual tool to use. The same goes for the *thing that is the spoiler for the series* – the level of CG is quite primitive and and the shots it is in are too dark to pick out details. But it is just enough to work effectively.
Sadly though, the show doesn’t get away unscathed from criticism, and I did find times now and again where that lack of experience caused for a few scenes which didn’t translate through as expected. Things like odd decisions that played out solely for the plot to progress, times where the bad guys could have wrapped up things far, far easier. And I will admit that the first two or three episodes took a while to win me over. Some of the characters are initially very difficult to get behind, but as things go along, that issue begins to iron itself out.
“Stranger Things” succeeds where many other adaptations and films have failed in order of capturing what made the reference material from the 80’s so inspiring and interesting. It gets the charm of the childhood adventure, coming of age, the unexplainable mystery, the brooding tones, and getting all of this to play out together on the same stage. I am floored that it succeeded so well, it is an absolute gem that could so easily have gon un-noticed.
Thanks for reading!