Reviews in the Nick of Time: Stranger Things

by wjw on September 3, 2016

Stranger_Things_logoNetflix’s Stranger Things has been widely appreciated for its deft appropriation of 1980s film and music (much of which is actually Seventies film and music, but nevermind), and one acquaintance of mine called it “the movie that Stephen King and Steven Spielberg never made.”

I understand that people might enjoy a series that sort of name-checks all the stuff they loved when young, but the Eighties weren’t my youth, dammit, and I’m wanting more than a pastiche, however expert, of something of which I was less than enamored  even back in the day.

I’m getting more than a little weary of all the nostalgia that’s drenching SF and fantasy film right now.  JJ Abrams is celebrated for his ability to create pitch-perfect imitation Star Wars and Star Trek films, films that hit all the high points the fans want to see without the heart that marked the original, and without really expanding into new or interesting territory.  The big superhero franchises feature characters dating as far back as the 1930s, and even Deadpool dates from 1991.

Can we please see something new now?  Something with a message a little more original than “The most powerful force in the universe is love?”  (A film in which the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest would be a lot more interesting.)

So how does Stranger Things stack up?  It’s got a bright, talented cast headed by Winona Ryder, the scenes intended to be suspenseful and/or scary, however predictable, are actually suspenseful and/or scary, and the production values are very high.  The small-town Midwestern scenery pretty much becomes a character on its own.

It’s a pity that David Harbour, who plays the sheriff, isn’t the young Harrison Ford, because the part seems pretty much written for him.

Is this something Stephen King and/or Spielberg and/or Lucas would have produced back in the Eighties?  Well, no.  They wouldn’t have produced anything this long, they would have made a movie clocking in at under two hours, and it would have been much better.

If you’ve got episodic TV, you’ve got to have something really big happen at the end of every episode, and in Stranger Things most of that doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Pam gets taken by the monster, but then the film pretty much forgets about her, I presume because she’s so unhip she doesn’t even play D&D, and nobody wants her as a romantic interest.  Will can communicate with his mom when the film requires a suspenseful moment, otherwise he’s silent.  Both El and the monster have whatever powers the script requires at any particular instant.  We don’t know why El has such a limited vocabulary, since everyone around her in the lab can talk, and you’d think they’d find an experimental subject who can talk much more useful than one who won’t.  (And of course she can’t talk because then she’d give exposition, and the story would come to an end about five episodes early.)

The series makes many of its protagonists bone stupid, but that’s normal in horror films.  The sheriff fails miserably at storming the government lab singlehanded, so of course he decides to do it again.  And he knows that the whole place is full of cameras, and he knows he can get into the Upside-Down through the hollow tree in Mirkwood, and he even knows that the hollow tree is near to where Will can be found.  So why doesn’t he use it?  (Because somebody’s got to fill up an hour of TV, that’s why.)

And the Alien references— what the hell?  The empty egg, the face-sucker?  Where did they come from?  (Another movie, clearly.)

Possibly the most overused element in the film is the government lab with endless supplies of mindless goon guards, all of whom prove disposable when the monster turns up, and none of whom seem to mind working for a place that exploits and tortures small children.

If you’re into retreads, this is a good one.  You’ve seen it all before, but I promise, it’s at least as well-done as the last time you saw it.

It’s predictable.  And that’s what you want in your nostalgic 80s flashback, right?

TRX September 3, 2016 at 8:08 am

Doesn’t sound worth wasting time on; I hated most of the movies it sounds like it’s mimicking.

I’m still wondering why someone hasn’t started an “Alien Inquisitor” program…

Privateiron September 4, 2016 at 7:18 am

iZombie and Kick Ass are more recent (in graphic form) than Deadpool, I think.

Ralf T. Dog September 4, 2016 at 6:38 pm

How about a movie where the strongest force in the universe is strong nuclear force? (I give you credit for the Einstein quote.)

wjw September 6, 2016 at 1:33 am

Y’know, I’ve been waiting for that movie for a long, long time.

IronOre September 6, 2016 at 9:30 am

I think when you refer to “Pam” you’re actually meaning “Barb.” Barb seems to be everyone’s favorite character from the show and is the only character I remember the name of.

I enjoyed the show, it was suspenseful and well done. I didn’t really fall into all the nostalgia that most people did either.

wjw September 8, 2016 at 12:17 am

Yeah, probably I mean “Barb.” But now I’m wondering if any one of them was named Pam.

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