Friday, August 19, 2016
Netflix's Stranger Things Celebrates the Stranger Things from the '80s
It may be 2016, but the '80s are still alive and well over at Netflix.
Netflix's latest popular series, Stranger Things, is an eight episode sci-fi thriller that is set in the mid-80s and pays tribute to many of the sci-fi thrillers of the '80s. Fans will immediately recognize similarities in the series' aesthetics, plot devices and themes to the popular works of John Carpenter, Stephen King and Steven Spielberg from that era, although Stranger Things manages to put its own compelling spin on them so that it becomes more than just a derivative knock off of superior movies and TV shows from another decade.
One aspect of Stranger Things that will stand out to people like me who grew up during the '80s is a set of geeky, Dungeons and Dragons-playing preteen characters spend the series looking for their best friend, who has been abducted by a strange, plant-like creature. I've noticed that critics and viewers specifically mention '80s movies such as E.T. and Goonies whenever they discuss this particular subplot and how it ties to the rest of the series as a whole. While this might not seem like a big deal in this day and age, with Hollywood cranking out big-budget movies based on popular young adult novels and entire cable channels devoted to pre-teen level programming, but Spielberg and his contemporaries such as Jim Henson and George Lucas inspired a trend of kid-friendly fantasy and sci-fi movies during the '80s.
What set these films apart from other kid films from eras before or after is that they incorporated what was then considered to be cutting-edge special effects to provide a certain level of amazement and visual grandeur. In my experience, the only titles that successfully recapture the kid-level wonder of '80s cinema are Stranger Things and the 2006 3D CGI movie Monster House. (J.J. Abrams tried to recapture this mood as well in Super 8, but his approach felt like it prioritized imitation over inspiration.)
To give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, click below to see a selection of movie posters that I've assembled of films from the '80s (and one or two from the '90s) that intended to draw kids to the box office by providing visual spectacles that were made just for them. Some of these films are still remembered, while others have gone on to become cult classics or to be largely forgotten; regardless, these films represent a time when kids were a primary audience for special effect-fueled flights of fancy.