Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Stranger Things

Spoiler-free.

Stranger Things is a Netflix original series created by brothers and . A sci-fi mystery set in 1983 suburban Indiana focusing on the disappearance of a neighborhood kid, Will Byers (). The local police Chief Jim Hopper (), Will's mother Joyce (), his brother Jonathan (), and geeky friends Mike (), Dustin (), and Lucas () all look for him in their own separate but interweaving missions.

The three friends led by Mike also discover and befriend a girl called Eleven () with buzzed hair and strange abilities who ran away from a secret research facility run by an unsettling doctor (). Slowly these few, along with Mike's older sister Nancy () begin to realize something sinister is haunting their small town. Where is Will Byers? And to what lengths will they go to get him back?

Here we have the young protagonists Lucas, Mike, Eleven, and Dustin. Dustin is the greatest. "MIKE! I FOUND THE CHOCOLATE PUDDING!"

It's incredibly unusual for this to happen, but I went into this having never even heard of it before. I saw it on Netflix, saw that it had five stars, saw the 80's style poster and the write-up, and that's all I needed. And after the first episode I could have sat there and watched all eight of them in a row -- which is what I did for my second viewing! This show is something quite amazing, and it starts and ends with the 80's vibe. No cell phones getting in the way of the plot really is a wonderful thing, but this goes way beyond that. It's 80's inspiration goes right down to the core, and is what makes this show stand out so spectacularly.

Soft synthesizer music is the score (whenever the occasional 80's classic isn't being featured) which complements the suspense to a T. It's also an effortlessly sci-fi sound. The three friends evoke a Stand by Me/Super 8/Goonies type dynamic with their easy chemistry and camaraderie. They are a delight and a riot. And their neighborhood reminds me of my childhood home (though I was born in the 90's) so I often got a whiff of personal nostalgia to boot. The show also borrows and pays homage to a large mishmash of elements from classic and cult films of the 80's, like that of Steven King and John Carpenter; and Spielberg on the less dark and edgy side. And there's no shortage of 80's pop and geek culture nods and references, from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars to Dungeons and Dragons, to many winkingly significant movies posters.

The older teens, Jonathan, Nancy, and Steve ().

Science fiction, mystery and horror are the most prominent genres, but whenever the show dips its toe into anything else -- romance, adventure, teenage comedy, (angsty teenage drama), chase thrillers, and most importantly plain old drama -- they are all done with the same amount of devotion given to the rest. Sometimes they're mixed, to striking results. Whatever Stranger Things does, it's always the best thing it does. At times there's something like seven plot lines going on, and normally in a show doing that, I would only be really invested in one, just waiting for my favorite to come back around. Here, no matter where we were and what we were being shown the mystery was always slowly being pieced together and kept me constantly glued to the screen.

It helped, of course, that each plot line contained at least one great character that was absolutely worth getting behind and investing interest in. That was possible, because this show is just as full of great characters as it is with characters at all. As every character serves a purpose, every character is fleshed-out and has a journey to complete and obstacles to overcome. I wish I could explain what I loved about each character and their journeys, but since I'm trying not to spoil anything... Let's just say that Hopper is the best lovable grump; the toothless Dustin is a genius and awesome; Winona Rider gives a great performance as the distraught and desperate mother; and Millie Bobby Brown steals every scene and every moment she's in. But everyone is fantastic -- actors and characters alike. And even the smallest characters get memorable personalities and don't feel as though they're only there to further the plot.

Chief Hopper. If any one person carries the show -- which they don't, but if they did -- it'd be him. "Mornings are for coffee and contemplation."

As great as this show is as a whole -- what with the way everything works together in that broad, complex weave -- it's in the individual moments and specific elements that its brilliance is found. Moment, by thrilling, terrifying moment is how this show wins you. The filming style is hauntingly beautiful, and full of foreshadowing; individual shots are framed so cleverly, and everything is edited together with incredible precision. And I was surprised at how effectively beauty and wonder was used to enhance the fear and dread. The way this story was written and presented is masterful, and each moment is so brilliantly crafted to amaze and scare and to tell its story with otherworldly effectiveness. Normally scary is not my thing -- but this is. This knows how to makes the scares invaluable to the entertainment quality.

For quality horror, you must first draw the viewer in, so they're invested in characters and involved in the story when the scary parts come around, and I was fully immersed within seconds of starting an episode. It grabs you and doesn't let go for even a second. Then scares are not cheap jump-scares or gore, but come through an elegant and carefully cultured tone of suspense that manifests in brief moments that leave your eyes wide and your heart racing -- and me clutching a pillow in gleeful agony. Never relenting on suspense, never a moment where your nerves aren't in tattered frays. But the best kind of tattered frays you could ever hope for. And of course there is the occasional but very effective moment of relief via comedy. Actually there's a lot of quite epic but subtle comedy too, that I didn't notice so much until my second viewing.

And finally Joyce. Until you watch this you will never know the unbelievable mixture of wonder and horror that colored Christmas lights can evoke!

When I started it I was hoping that it would be an anthology series (it's a great name for an anthology series!) but it's not. But I've come to terms with that -- I read in an interview that The Duffer Brothers plan to quit telling the story when it's done, and not drag it out, and that makes me very hopeful. As long as they can keep this great thing going with the same loving dedication, I'll be delighted and thrilled to stick around in good old Hawkins, IN until the story is told to completion.

So, basically, this show is ideal viewing for anyone who doesn't hate sci-fi or the 80's. But if you actually love science fiction and its retro heyday... this is a magnificent treat that is new and original, yet inviting and familiar. Stories don't get much more satisfying and perfectly fitted to the niche than this one, with its small town of ordinary folk going up against incredible, mysterious, and terrifying forces with nothing but their bikes and their brains and their brave determination. Stranger Things could hardly be more dated to the 80's if it were actually made in the 80's, but, as with the best films of that era, when loaded with heart and told with such personal care, some stories just can't help but feel ageless.

4 comments:

  1. Oh, hey, so I'm "back" -- in the comments. (Now you see how I can be, haha :-( ) I never actually went anywhere. Don't [you] think I missed a day checking for a new post! :^) ;-) I'll be back (later tonight? soon...) to reply to your other previous comments like I've been waiting to since forever. (You'll also get to find out more about me, because of something I just realized the other day, LOL.)

    Anyway, I was surprised (but should I be at this point, really?) to see your tweets about watching this a couple weeks ago or whenever. I thought, "Oh wow, maybe she's not too far into it and I'll be able to watch along 'with' you." Ah well, that didn't happen. :-/

    I had never heard about this until at the beginning of July (after I last commented :*( ) when I saw it mentioned in someone else's tweet (?) from one of yours! Checked out the trailer and thought it looked interesting, though I wasn't sure what exactly to make of it. :-) I watched the first ep. "opening night," which seemed like it just mostly filled in everything the trailer showed (except for the diner scene with Eleven -- then I was like, this just got interesting). Then I wasn't even up after midnight I don't think for a while (unusual), which is when most stuff is watched, and like you said (Twitter) this needs to be viewed at night. ;-)

    Just finally finished the 3rd episode only last night, LOL. (Not even 1 per week avg...) It's fine, but I'm not sure I've changed much since the trailer/pilot -- thinking I'm not going to be feeling it quite as much as you. :-) There's certainly nothin' wrong with it, and I want to keep watching, it's just that I still can't figure out what to make of it (I'm wanting to put it in certain "box" maybe, wrongly). Hmm...

    Oh yeah, saw your tweet about the "horror" of colored Christmas lights (oh, it's on the caption here too :-O), and was gonna say, I guess you prefer all-white ones? (Insert joke about that sounding kinda racist [Shawn Spencer, remember] :-P) But then she did have plain white ones too under the cabinet in "Holly Jolly." (So I was reading too much into the "colored" part, haha.)

    That's cool that you like to savor episodes (like me!) and not just binge through them -- on the the first viewing, anyway. ;-)

    I don't think you mentioned the little girl! I just had to look it up, Holly Wheeler (an Olsen twins thing...). I couldn't believe the way she was acting at dinner in the first episode (the expressions, LOL), and I guess a bit over at the Byers' house before following the lights. I think "yes" is the only thing she's spoken through ep. 3, but she's said a lot more. :o)

    Hopefully that's everything I was thinking to say about this, since I just decided to comment quickly now instead of waiting till "later" (again)... Great write up, as always! :~)


    Take care and God bless,
    Matt

    P.S. Got my dinner with Rachael Leigh Cook! I'll explain when I reply to the Liebster comment, haha. Before/after the About Me comment...

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    1. Haha, well, welcome back, and thanks for continuing to read. :) Yeah we watched one a night (skipping one night for some reason) so we got it done in 9 days! And then my brother and I marathoned it two nights later -- all the way through in one sitting, which was very fun. I may have even liked it better the second time! Definitely our new favorite show. :D I can understand it not being the same kind of epic treat for some that it is for us though. I'm still not exactly sure why I loved it SO much. Glad you're enjoying it though!

      Yeah, I tweeted that while I was writing, because I thought of that and thought it was apt. Because of the scene in "Holly Jolly" where will uses the lights to point to the cupboard and then to spell. It was freaking me out and amazing me at the same time, and that's something that rarely happens.

      Yeah, I heard with Holly that they basically didn't have anything scripted for her to do, so the things she does was unprompted! Like saying "yes" and slumping in the chair when El walks by. She, or they were adorable. But yeah, I didn't talk much about the characters in the review, and I could have gone on and one about them! I just didn't want to get too spoilery.

      Thanks Matt!

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    2. (Tried to post this 20 hours ago, but nothing happened! Either Blogger had an overnight glitch, or I wasn't allowed to comment more while the other one was awaiting approval...)

      So've blazed through 3 more now -- wow, 1/night?! :-O

      Last night after 5, "The Flea and the Acrobat," I was like, yep, definitely the best so far! The time travel references, funny compass stuff ('cause I'm into geography, map, etc. stuff for my other site) were little parts. But everything! Then at the end I was like, did Nancy just find the portal (or w/e it's called :-P)? She seemed to be "there," but somewhere else, but from "The Monster" tonight, it seems it was just out for a meal... But that icky passage thing was weird in that case.

      And yep, Chapter Six was just as good, though in different ways. :-)

      Just a quick update for ya... :-D Hope it continues for the last two! It is weird that there's only 8 eps -- I thought the minimum was always like 10. *shrug*

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    3. Glad you're enjoying it! Yeah, there's so many little details there that makes it all so neat and awesome. I thought the compass bit was very clever. And Dustin is the greatest! I won't tell you anything though, I'm sure you'll figure it out.

      Yeah, that's the great thing about it being on Netflix -- the Duffers pitched it to them as a 8-hour story, so that what they gave them. They just let them do everything they wanted!

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