Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Why We Needed "Stranger Things"

By we, I mean the older Millennial and younger Gen X-ers. That's not to exclude any other generation, but that's who I feel a part of.

We grew up in a time before 9/11, before the recession, and most importantly, before social media. I say that's the most important because the world has always been an awful place but for the most part we were shielded from it. If the evening news didn't cover it, it's like it never happened. We grew up in a time of oblivion. That's not necessarily a good thing, but in this day and age where the latest terrorist attack and police shooting is just a click away, we take solace in the things that remind us of an innocent time.

We are probably the most nostalgic generation, proven by the overwhelmingly popular Pokemon Go and reboots and sequels of some of our favorite media [Girl Meets World, Fuller House, X-Files, the upcoming Twin Peaks and Gilmore Girls, Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghostbusters (much to the chagrin of basement dwelling neck beards), and much much more]; so when Stranger Things came along, it not only took us back to the days where we wished we were a Goonie, it brought new characters, new stories and new water cooler talk. It let us continue our childhood rather than just relive it.

With anything that is met with critical acclaim (it currently holds a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes), the backlash and criticisms eventually come. I have my own criticisms [the well-known music takes me out of a lot of the scenes (except the end of episodes 3. That damn song. I become a blubbering mess) and Matthew Modine being cast in a thankless role, to start] but what I've read has been about how it borrows too much from Stephen Spielberg and Stephen King rather than being original.

Anyone can create homage to their favorite era or filmmaker but few can do it well. I'll admit, some scenes and shots looks straight up lifted from their influences with just minor changes: the boys meeting Eleven was very similar to when Elliot first meets E.T., just more rain and less screaming or Eleven making the truck fly while E.T. makes the kids fly as each group bikes away from their respective antagonists.

After the boys find out about "the Upside-Down," they look to their science teacher, Mr. Clarke, for more information on other dimensions. At first, Mr. Clarke thinks they are referring to parallel universes and we may as well use his analogy in reference to this show. This could take place in the same world as Stand by Me, but could also be a parallel one. While Gordie and his friends are walking along the railroad to find Ray Bower's body in Stand By Me, they could have easily ran into Mike, Dustin and Lucas walking along the railroad to find the Gate (before you try to "actually!" me, yes, I know Stand By Me took place in Oregon while Stranger Things is in Indiana). Or Eleven and Charlie (from Firestarter) could have been going through testing two doors down from each other in the lab.

I could go on with more examples and I do understand why that is a major criticism of the show, but I also just don't care. While I do wish there were more original movies and television shows, we are currently in a wave of sequels and reboots and the difference between most of those and Stranger Things is that the Duffer brothers created this project out of the love and respect of the originals rather than cashing in on the nostalgia. They didn't just take a familiar story or genre and banked on that, they paid attention to the details and took what worked.

I haven't seen any of their shorts, but I did see their (currently only) feature, Hidden, starring Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd and Andrea Riseborough. It is your typical B-horror movie that had a decent story but they seemed to choose style over substance (sometimes a little too much style). After working with other writers and directors on Stranger Things, along with the guidance of Netflix, I am interested to see what they do in the future; if they come up with something more original or if this was all they had in them. 

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