Netflix’s Stranger Things dropped on July 15. By now, binge watchers have had the opportunity to gobble up the eight episodes. While most critics are in agreement that this is another home run for the Netflix Original Series line, there is something quite odd you might find while viewing.
Growing Up 80s
There are too many homages to the 1980s and retro nostalgia to list in this article. The show does a wonderful job of recreating 1983. The nods that Stranger Things gives to Dungeons and Dragons, Atari 2600, and The Empire Strikes Back will be appreciated by fans of that time period.
One can’t help but notice that most characters depicted in Stranger Things have an 80s counterpart. Prime examples include the part of Dustin Henderson played by Gaten Matarazzo. He screams Chunk from The Goonies even down to his elbow pops replacing the Truffle Shuffle.
Other characters that stick out include Finn Wolfhard’s Mike Wheeler. He is very reminiscent of Elliott from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven plays the role of Sloth also from The Goonies. Fortunately, Netflix’s Stranger Things doesn’t really try to hide any of this. The end product comes off as more respectful than imitative.
Even the title sequence at the beginning of each episode draws its influence from the 80s. The AV Club recently spoke with Ross Duffer, one of the show’s creators, about the decision to go with a more simplistic opening. They drew heavily from designer Richard Greenberg, who is famous for Superman, Alien, and The Untouchables.
“Pretty much every awesome title sequence back in the day. It’s something very very simple, but very very memorable. Like Alien, just those little lines forming. That is so effective and so memorable, but is something that is so ridiculously simple.”
Ross Duffer’s partner and brother, Matt, also explained that the less is more style of approach is what they were shooting for.
“Sometimes scaling back makes things feel actually more epic and more enormous.”
Phenomenal Young Talent
One of the single most impressive qualities of Netflix’s Stranger Things is the impressive lineup of young talent that fills the series. The primary focus is on four friends. Mike Wheeler (Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Matarazzo), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) play a group of best friends who do not quite fit into the regular crowd at Hawkins Middle School.
When Will goes missing, the trio risk life and limb to do what it takes to get their friend back. Joining them is a strange girl with supernatural powers Eleven (Brown) that they hide from the “bad man.” Each and every one of these actors does a wonderful job of giving a solid performance. The Duffers should be commended for finding such a talented group of young actors. Included in that is Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton, who fill out the rolls as worried siblings of two of the kids.
Plenty of television shows and movies have been ruined because of bad acting by children and adolescents. Stranger Things relies so heavily on that, and it could have easily gone off the rails, but the acting was one of its greatest strengths.
The strangest thing about Stranger Things is what I didn’t like about it. The performances turned in by the main adult, Joyce Myers, played by Winona Ryder, and the main villain, Dr. Martin Brenner, played by Matthew Modine, were sub-par in my estimation. While they did not detract from the enjoyment of the series, they in no way added to it.
Ryder’s character is the mother of Will, the boy who goes missing. The Duffer Brother decided early on in the casting process to use Ryder. In an interview with Vulture, they spoke about how much they were fans of her growing up.
“Winona came up very early on and was on one of our first casting lists that our casting director came up with, and we all fell instantly in love with that idea. Certainly there’s nostalgia there, but this is someone we were huge fans of growing up, and it’s someone we just wanted to see more of.”
However, instead of getting the Winona Ryder of 80s supernatural films like Beetlejuice, the character comes off with more of a Joan Cusack feel. Ryder is overly animated in the sequences of grief, and it is hard to find a scene where she is not screaming at something or someone.
Matthew Modine’s performance can’t really be blamed on him as an actor. The character of Dr. Brenner is really not developed enough to build the amount of hate that you would normally attribute to a guy who drugged and stole a little girl, used her for experiments, and killed anyone who got in his way. He is just bland, and Modine really doesn’t do intimidation well.
Overall, the negatives are not overshadowed by the positives. Any fan or child of 80s culture will appreciate the attention to detail. The story, while long in places, has a good pace, and the Duffer Brothers, true to 80s form, have left the series open for another season. Netflix’s Stranger Things is definitely worth a watch.
[Image via Netflix]