With every week comes the announcement of another reboot; a classic TV show or movie is plucked from the ’80s, ’90s and even the early noughties’ back-catalogue and — myself included — whose growing infatuation with old-school cult classics has proven to draw a crowd.
While we’re trying to approach each coming reimagining with an open mind, with , special and Wet Hot American Summer spin-off, there comes the over-arching question: More often than not these reboots will never do the original justice, so why is nobody putting a nostalgic spin on an all-new concept?
Enter Stranger Things, the latest eight-episode offering from Netflix that — via a multitude of references and stylistic forms — delivers a wealth of nostalgic, analogue era feels, and taps into the past without tarnishing a beloved series.
The synopsis is as follows:
This thrilling Netflix-original drama stars award-winning actress Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers, who lives in a small Indiana town in 1983 — inspired by a time when tales of science fiction captivated audiences. When Joyce’s 12-year-old son, Will, goes missing, she launches a terrifying investigation into his disappearance with local authorities. As they search for answers, they unravel a series of extraordinary mysteries involving secret government experiments, unnerving supernatural forces, and a very unusual little girl.
The creators of the sci-fi horror series, the Duffer brothers, wear their ’80s influences on their sleeves and while their countless culture-nods may have the potential to grate or become gratuitous, the enthusiasm with which they are handled sweeps you up within minutes. The show is not without its flaws but — in my personal opinion, at least — those flaws make its charm all the stronger.
Here are 5 things worth noting before bingeing on Stranger Things. Warning: Mild plot SPOILERS ahead.
1. References To Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
With an overarching theme of suburban disenchantment, the creepiness seeping into the sleepy Midwestern town of Hawkins, Indiana, makes the homage to Spielberg’s style apparent from the first chapter, yet the most blatant references to the seminal director’s influence come via nods to his 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
From a living room tour to a questionable disguise including a pink dress borrowed from a character’s sister and a blonde wig, plus an epic bike chase, there are three scenes in particular in which to watch out for little hat tips to the cult ’80s family film.
2. And Nods To Stephen King
Watching STRANGER THINGS is looking watching Steve King’s Greatest Hits. I mean that in a good way.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing)
As Stephen King himself points out, there are countless nods to the biggest players in his back-catalogue, starting from the font used in the credit sequence (which you can see above; it’s awesome, appears with VHS-esque spot marks, and could actually be a mirror image of a novel he penned back in the ’80s) to IT, withthe discovery of something deeply sinister lurking beneath the visible in their quiet, boring town, via Stand By Me.
Gaten Matarazzo’s character might in some ways be 2016’s answer to Chunk from The Goonies (with a little less Truffle Shuffle), but the gang of well-meaning adventurers you’ll meet from the get-go carry a weight on their shoulders that is far more reflective of Stand By Me than a Goonie treasure trail.
3. The Return Of An Icon
To borrow another Spielberg-esque theme, Stranger Things features the stereotypical single mother left by her good-for-nothing husband to raise their two kids alone. Starring Winona Ryder — though she’s not necessarily the “star” of the show, which is not her fault since the narrative focuses mostly on the quest of the boys as they search for her son — Ryder is there to do what she does best (in what feels like her first starring role since 1999’s Girl, Interrupted): she’sfrenzied, she’s hysterical, and she’s reckless.
Off-kilter weird is a style few can capture like Winona, and although her character feels a little lost at times, the scenes in which her maternal instincts launch into a furious, borderline-insane world of their own is when Winona’s shining presence is back and in full swing. It’s also these scenes, incidentally, that leave the most stunning and lingering imagery, as you can see above and below.
Also, on the topic of returning icons, viewers may clock ’80s flaxen daydream Matthew Modine (yes, Birdy) as the villainous, white-haired Dr. Brenner or “Papa,” whose character carries a somewhat menacing reflection of the evil “Keys,” Peter Coyote’s character in E.T.
4. Dungeons & Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons fans finally get a little recognition too, for the game’s monster — the Demogorgon — comes to life here. While there might be too many spoilers in revealing exactly what this other-worldly beast’s agenda is, or where he lives, let’s just say that any fears a D&D player has — or anyone with an imagination in fact — of being snatched by a faceless beast while on the way home is realized in the first 15 minutes. And that tension does not drop, like, at all.
5. The Soundtrack
Finally, the show is made all the more binge-worthy by its splendid, period-appropriate playlist. Some tracks are used as symbolic plot devices such as The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and other’s like Bowie’s “Heroes,” and Modern English’s “I Melt With You,” are just pure nostalgia grooves and help to cement the show’s ’80s vibe.
Have you watched Stranger Things yet?
Staff Writer at MP. Lover of bad puns, nostalgic feels and all things Winona.