A little bit weird O@t… column today, as I’m not really reviewing this Netflix series but just wanna use it to illustrate the difference between decent entertainment and dreck. Bear with me please …
In a small town where everyone knows everyone, a peculiar incident starts a chain of events that leads to the disappearance of a child – which begins to tear at the fabric of an otherwise peaceful community. Dark government agencies and seemingly malevolent supernatural forces converge on the town while a few locals begin to understand that there’s more going on than meets the eye.
Remember a time when Hollywood was still great, and many of its movies were actually good and engaging and a joy to watch and you could really go with the flow and feel with their protagonists? Yeah, we all can remember. The adventures, big and small, that were told through the eyes of talented filmmakers and screenwriters. Of people with a vision.
Don’t we still fear for the life of a young Richard Dreyfuss, fighting off that shark killermachine? Didn’t we all like the story about human vanity and ignorance, lurking behind the sharky spectacle of Jaws? Aren’t we still quite smitten by Steven Spielberg’s creative camera zoom?
And how rousing was the journey of four young boys through the woods of Steven King’s Maine in Stand by Me?
And how much fun was to be had with The Goonies? It was a loud movie, chaotic and hectic and unrealistic and … just young and it captured its subject perfectly.
And most legendary, the original Star Wars, with all its quirks and weaknesses, went on to become one of the most beloved movie franchises ever.
Aaaand … NO, wait. Let’s stop here for a moment. Because Star Wars wasn’t just one of the most influential movies ever made but the franchise as such is also an important part of what’s wrong with the modern Hollywood of today.
Alhough made by committee Episode VII had plotholes bigger than the galaxy far far away and was more illogical and cheesy than the fattest cheese of George Lucas’ 1976 movie. As a movie afficionado one just had to feel betrayed. And the non-canonical Rogue One was only a teeny tiny little bit better but also failed to reach any greatness. Although it came with all the right ingredients.
Anyway, if you’re an eager reader of my O@tM column you know why I don’t like most of the modern aera movies and you catch my drift and where I’m going with this. So let’s get back to today’s subject, Stranger Things and what differentiates it from the typical Hollywood blockbuster:
Actually it’s quite easy and no big magic trick. Let’s get one thing straight here: Stranger Things could be a bit too childish and naiive for many audiences and it doesn’t reinvent the artform of audiovisual entertainment. Quite the contrary. Stranger Things is very conventional storytelling with very conventional methods. Proven methods. Methods that have always worked their magic on us. LOL, even the posters remind us of Star Wars and ET, don’t they?
This is in stark contrast to the new H-wood studio system and filmmaking by committee, where every little beancounter has his or her say in the creative process. Stranger Things is the brainchild of, and created by the Duffer Brothers, who also directed the first two episodes. Episodes? Yes, Stranger Things is a complex series, not a singular movie. And it sprang from the minds of only two creative people. Nobody else was involved to ruin the concept. Stranger Things is monofocusing on a singular vision. Just like the old Spielberg movies.
Haven’t I stated it already in some of my O@tM reviews that some of those movies would’ve found a better home and format in one of the cable networks? Try, just try, to imagine GoT all put into one big scale movie … Mhm, yes. Catastrophe!
So here we already have the two most important reasons that make Stranger Things so much better than anything coming out of H-wood lately. A singular vision and the right format of presentation.
Next point is the pacing. Yes, it’s connected to the aforementioned question of format. In a TV series you have more time so there’s no need to rush anything that isn’t supposed to rush.
Also, and this is the next point of difference: A TV series gives the creators and script writers enough time to develop characters. Even for supporting roles. As Stranger Things has quite an extended cast there are many supporting roles, roles with very limited screentime. To have them thoroughly painted out makes the whole series’ universe so much better, more believable and natural.
And then there is a point that I’ve already touched in the beginning: Stranger Things‘ appearance as a series for teenies. This is actually a good thing, believe it or not. Stranger Things doesn’t pretend to be something else, it never breaks the mold. At least not in the three episodes we’ve watched so far.
You know it’s one thing if the story has some unexpected tonal changes in store for us, but it’s another thing if, say, a Marvel mutant hero flick suddenly becomes a character piece for old and tired actors. The first one is welcome and challenging in engaging ways. The second is just pretentious crap and an unwelcome challenge of our patience with the franchise. Isn’t it so, Mr. Wolfman?
Again, Stranger Things isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen but then it never tries to be. Stranger Things knows what it is and what it can do. It makes the best of its – probably limited – production budget and just gives us very good entertainment.
Once again about the childishness of the series, let’s have a look at the cast here: Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine and Paul Riser are heroes of our youth, legendary figures, heart throbs back then, which have largely disappeared from the screen and from public awareness. To cast these people was a stroke of genius by the producers. It gives Stranger Things some aura of wisdom, some maturity that tells us it’s ok to watch. We got older too. You’re not alone, you lovely adult you. No reason not to have some fun. Welcome to the club. You don’t even need to memorize a secret handshake, membership is automatically applied.
Yes, it is okay to watch, more than just ok. Not just for your children but for you as well, you 40 – 60 years old ex-punk hippie. And you’re still allowed to be an adult. Here is fun to be had for the whole family. All you need to do is opening your mind a little bit and be susceptible for a little journey in time, for the siren call of times past. And after only minutes of watching you’ll find yourself back in the 70s and 80s and the movies you know and love. And that, bois and gurlz, that is how great entertainment is made, it’s like it’s supposed to be!