Saturday, March 4, 2017

But I Digress... Stranger Familiar

By Cat

Series Name/Year: Stranger Things (2016-)
Tagline: A Netflix Original Series
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Length: Season 1, 8 Episodes (Renewed for a Season 2), Runtime range of 41-55 min. per episode
Rating: TV-14
Production Companies: 21 Laps Entertainment, Monkey Massacre, Netflix
Producers: Dan Cohen, Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Justin Doble, Jessica Mecklenburg, Alison Tatlock, Rand Geiger, Shawn Levy, Iain Paterson, Karl Gajdusek, Cindy Holland, Matthew Thunell, Brian Wright, Emily Morris
Directors: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Shawn Levy, Andrew Stanton, Rebecca Thomas
Writers: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Justin Doble, Paul Dichter, Jessica Mecklenburg, Jessie Nickson-Lopez, Alison Tatlock
Actors: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Joe Keery, Noah Schnapp, Rob Morgan, Joe Chrest, Matthew Modine, Anniston Price, Tinsley Price, Mark Steger, Ross Partridge, Shannon Purser
Stunt Coordinators: Cal Johnson, Lonnie R. Smith Jr., Anderson Martin, Reece Fleetwood, Michael R. Long

Speech Available: English, Spanish, German, Italian, French
Subtitles Available: English, French, Spanish, Traditional Chinese, German

Blurb from Netflix: A love letter to the ’80s classics that captivated a generation, Stranger Things is set in 1983 Indiana, where a young boy vanishes into thin air. As friends, family and local police search for answers, they are drawn into an extraordinary mystery involving top-secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange little girl.

Stranger Things was almost an instant sensation following its Netflix release mid-July 2016. It quickly skyrocketed into common pop culture knowledge and references to the show were everywhere. If this had been a standard television show, the ratings would have been astronomical.

I’ll admit that I didn’t watch this series right away. For whatever reason, I’d felt that I didn’t have the time for the eight hours to dedicate to a good binge-session. Of course, I was silly. It’s been on my ‘to-watch’ list ever since, though. I wanted to see what the big deal was!

I finally decided to jump down the rabbit hole into the world of ‘80s nostalgia. My first impression? Wow.

I’m an ‘80s baby. That was the decade of my elementary school years. This movie touched on so many things from that era that I was practically pointing at the screen and going “ooh!” for something in every scene. Not really, but it felt that way. I mean seriously – Dungeons and Dragons (back then I didn’t play but I was into the cartoon), Trapper Keepers (I still have one), rotary phones, I swear I saw a Pacer (which was my mom’s car in the ‘80s), and the RadioShack Realistic brand walkie talkies. I could go on forever.

Aside from just the physical stuff that is sprinkled throughout this period piece, this series phenomenally captures the feeling laced through the media landscape of ‘80s cinema. The title sequence electronica and other music from that decade that permeates the soundtrack sets the tone, reminiscent of Tangerine Dream’s contribution to the US release version of Legend (1985). There seems to be more than one reference to that particular movie in the series but it’s also in close running with the Silent Hill video game (1999). Of course, that was after this series’ timeline but it fits well enough stylistically once you identify the shared elements. 

If I had to make comparisons, I’d say this series plays out like an eight hour movie that was a mashup of The Goonies (1985), Stand By Me (1986), and E.T. (1982) with shades of Aliens (1986), Poltergeist (1982), a little bit of Jaws (1975), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). There’s really so much more, but I could talk Easter eggs with you forever – it’s better just to see for yourself (and then look them up if you think you missed some).

The creators of the show, twins Matt and Ross Duffer (Abraham's Boys, Wayward Pines, Hidden), are a package deal better known as The Duffer Brothers. This dynamic duo has been cited attributing inspiration to the works of greats such as H.R. Giger (Future-Kill, Poltergeist II, Prometheus), Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, The Strain), Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Candyman) , Stephen King (Carrie, The Shining, Firestarter),  and John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China) – all masters of the strange and scary.

I could babble on about references and homage to the ‘80s and the practical effects creature feature genre, but there’s so much more to shine the light on with this series.

The casting for Stranger Things was absolutely phenomenal. It’s no wonder that they won the award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series at the 2017 SAG Awards, and were nominated for many others. 

This series is mostly about the kids, but before I go further in talking about them, I’ve got to mention Winona Ryder (Black Swan, Frankenweenie, Experimenter). She’s no stranger to dark movies, though this was her first appearance in a series. I’ve generally enjoyed her in the past, but this performance was on an entirely new level of awesome. The experiences of her character deliver a gut-punch of emotions as we ride this supernatural mystery rollercoaster with her.

Everyone’s been talking about the adorable young cast. Finn Wolfhard (Aftermath, The 100, Supernatural), Millie Bobby Brown (Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Intruders, NCIS), Gaten Matarazzo (The Blacklist), Noah Schnapp (Bridge of Spies, The Peanuts Movie, Panic! At the Disco: LA Devotee), and Caleb McLaughlin (Forever, Shades of Blue, The New Edition Story) came together like a ‘dream team.’ I loved their group dynamic and my geeky heart felt right at home among them.

I also enjoyed that this series explored what was happening on so many different levels. The younger kids were off doing their own thing, the grown-ups were dealing with the adult-level repercussions of events, while the teens had issues of their own. Sure, some might poke at the series and see clichés left and right – but for this story, so what?! The way it was woven together made it fit in such a way that it didn’t feel cliché unless you were just watching to point and yell “I told you so.” Natalia Dyer (Blue Like Jazz, Don't Let Me Go, I Believe in Unicorns), Charlie Heaton (Casualty, As You Are, Shut In), and Joe Keery (Chicago Fire, Henry Gamble's Birthday Party, The Charnel House) are a triple-threat to keep your eyes on. I have so many burning questions about the dynamic of this trio in the wake of season one. 

David Harbour (Quantum of Solace, Snitch, The Equalizer) was the solid center of this cast. He’s clearly not entirely your ‘by the books’ kind of guy and you get to see flashes of his past as the series unfolds. I’ve read a lot where people claim to see shades of the Indiana Jones character in his performance. I can see that (though I think a lot of that is the hat). On the other side of the coin, we have Matthew Modine (Weeds, The Dark Knight Rises, Jobs). He lived through the ‘80s cinema landscape as star of both Vision Quest (1985) and Full Metal Jacket (1987). His role here flips the script a bit and comes from a darker place – no pun intended.

While children are the main focus of this series, it’s not necessarily a show geared to kids. My daughter’s at the age where she wants to start pushing the boundaries of her comfort zone in media such as movies and shows of this nature. I know I had a yearning to watch the stuff I ‘wasn’t supposed to’ when I was far younger. After my watch-through, I’m comfortable with letting her give it a go. The disturbing nature of some of the events and how an individual handles that sort of thing is really the clincher.

Less than a month from release, Netflix announced that Stranger Things was renewed for a second season. They’ve given two teasers so far – one as an ad during the Super Bowl, and the other released to YouTube as an adapted take on the opening title sequence, giving a rundown of the episodes we can expect in the Halloween 2017 release. Season Two boasts 9 episodes, one more than its preceding season, and new cast members. Among them are Sean Astin (Click, The Syrain, Bad Kids of Crestview Academy) and Paul Reiser (Concussion, War on Everyone, The Little Hours). I can’t wait to see what their contribution is. 

The next installment is said to get “weirder and darker” according to the Duffer Brothers. Ross Duffer was quoted in an EW article as saying "Just like we treated the first season like a big movie, we wanna treat this like a big movie as well and we don’t wanna coast on these characters. We’re trying to swing for the fences on this one.”

I’ve got to say that the teaser showcases some scary and trippy elements of what’s to come. I can’t wait for Halloween! I know what I’ll be doing as soon as the trick-or-treaters finish swiping all the candy.

If you’d like to get a peek into the minds of the Duffers and explore aspects left hanging from Season One and what might be coming in Season Two, you can check out a Variety article here. Please note that the article is HEAVILY spoiler riddled. I’d recommend giving it a peek after you watch the first season.

But I Digress... is a weekly column for that can't be pinned down to just one thing. It's Cat's celebration of tangents, random references, and general fan geekdom that both intertwines with, revolves around, and diverges from our movie-review core. In homage to the beloved Brit comedians, we want to bring you something completely different!

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