From House of Cards to Orange Is the New Black, Netflix produces many of the best television series currently running. Since Netflix isn’t bound by the same restrictions of cable television, they have the freedom to explore more mature subject matter that often carries a heavy dose of sex, violence, and Shakespearean heft. In an age where any form of entertainment is just a click away, Netflix is churning out high quality content that’s guaranteed to create the buzz and hysteria needed to attract new members.
When trailers for Stranger Things appeared online in early June, my nerd radar blipped out of control. It was everything I like about the sci-fi and horror genre in one neat little package. For someone who grew up watching the films of Spielberg, Carpenter, Lucas, Craven, and Hughes, I was destined to love it.
And that’s the problem. The Duffer Brothers, co-writers and directors of Stranger Things, have created a Frankenstein’s monster of 70s and 80s homage and nostalgia. And, just like Frankentstein’s monster, it’s desperately trying to be it’s own creation while it’s creators won’t allow it.
Strangers Things follows a charming, ragtag group of kids who overcome insurmountable odds to save the day; they defeat the evil government lackeys, kill the stereotypical monster, resolve their family issues at home, find their kidnapped friend, and, if that’s not enough, they do it all while learning some important lessons about love, friendship, and the pains of growing up along the way.
If you’ve seen E.T., The Goonies, IT, or Stand By Me, that may sound a tad familiar. But, honestly, that’s not the issue. Those movies are built on the same basic story, but it’s the differences in character, time, and execution that make them unique. Unlike Stranger Things, these movies aren’t striving to pay homage to each other, they don’t copy scenes from one story to the next, and they don’t steal photographic or soundtrack motifs.
For instance, when Will first takes Elle home he gives her a tour of his room in a nearly word-for-word, shot-for-shot copy of the way that Elliott does with E.T. This is done intentionally in an effort to give the scene in Stranger Things the emotional oomph of that scene from E.T. It’s jarring. Rather than pulling me further into the story, this creates a distancing effect.
From the older sister named Nancy (Nightmare on Elm Street) to the out-to-prove they’re not completely losing it parent (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Stranger Things is a pornographic amalgamation of all things 70s and 80s sci-fi and horror.
Much has already been said about this special brand of nostalgia re-mixing, but I believe this issue could have been resolved easily. Stranger Things is trying too hard to harken back to an era where it doesn’t belong. The same story can be accomplished by writing about children who experience an amazing adventure in 2016 and would give a whole new generation a classic set in their own time. This has been accomplished to great effect by recent movies like Ex Machina or 10 Cloverfield Lane (though both lean toward a more adult audience).
We won’t recapture the magic of E.T., the inventiveness of a horror series built around not falling asleep, or even the heart of The Karate Kid. Those movies already happened. It’s time to make our own.