At its heart, Stranger Things is a love-letter to the eighties.
The opening credits of Stranger Things sold me on the show. The crude synth ambience of the score sounds like something John Carpenter left on the cutting room floor, while editing Escape from New York.
The Netflix Original Series follows the disappearance of young Will Byers. Wynona Ryder plays the ever-frantic mother that spends much of the season in search of her son, uncovering supernatural occurrences along the way. I’d like to say that she channels Jo Beth Williams from Poltergeist, but Williams kicked supernatural ass to get her girl back. Sadly, Ryder’s the weakest performance in the show.
She’s aided by hard-jawed, ex-big city cop, Hopper (David Harbour) who’s runnin’ from his past. Together they uncover a government plot to hide some… thing from another world. If it sounds like Spielberg and Lucas were involved in the production, it’s supposed to. The filmmakers capture the look of films like ET and translate it onto the screen. Hell, they even translate their favourite characters in Stranger Things. As my father pointed out to me, Hopper takes after Indiana Jones in many ways. Aesthetically, he’s rugged, unshaven, and always sports his hat, though his uniform is technically from Jaws. Personality wise, he uses charm to talk his way into places and brute force to punch his way out. And most of all, he makes it up as he goes.
Will Byers’ brother and friends, go out in search of him as well. Superficially, the band of misfit kids has a likeness to The Goonies—especially Barbara—but The Goonies worked to their strengths to defeat the baddies. The kids in Stranger Things squabble over the tiniest stuff in order to create false tension. I don’t blame the creators, I assume Netflix wanted their moneys worth, so they padded the runtime with superfluous conversations and characters, but the result is a love letter that’s few too many pages long.
The creators of Stranger Things no doubt idolize, George Lucas, and Lucas was fascinated by myth. So, it was no big surprise when I saw that they took a page from Joseph Campbell’s work as well. Along their journey, the three boys Meet the Goddess character, Eleven. When I say Goddess, I don’t mean Aphrodite. Eleven is more of a Kali; equal parts destruction and creation. Eleven uses her abilities to give, and to take away. Her dark side is thanks to an Ogre father character that goes by “Papa.”
Together, all the aforementioned characters team up against the bullies, HAZMAT suits, monsters, ogre fathers, and the government. The Duffer Bros tie up the season well enough, but rather than have the archetypal loser kid and chotchy girl hook up at the end, they created a useless love triangle, where in the loser kid is frozen in a stasis for the girl of his dreams, a la, Jim/Pam or Ross/Rachel. Nit picky, I know, but this is a tired technique to stretch out the show. It makes me hesitant how the next season will turn out. I’ll still tune in, even if I do nothing but echo Captain America:
One could argue that Stranger Things is nothing but carbon copy nostalgia. This particular “Straw Man” might shout: “Hey, that slug’s from Night of the Creeps!” or “The Egg’s from Alien!” or “The Body’s from Lord of Illusions.” But all the movies that Duffer Brothers pay ode to, paid ode to the cinema of their childhood as well. Scott, Spielberg, Lucas, Cronenberg and Carpenter sought to translate the black and white B-movies and Serials that they watched as kids. Which is why I love what’s at the heart of a show like this: the magic of the silver screen. Hopefully, some kids fall in love with it, even if the execution isn’t as sharp as the intention.