“Stranger Things” and the Eighties Touch

As you may or may not know, I’ve set up this blog to express my opinions and thoughts on current and past books, albums, and films.  So you’re probably wondering (or you may not be, I wouldn’t know) why my first post is centered around a TV show.  Stranger Things is unlike any show I’ve ever seen before, and it is so greatly influenced by eighties movies that it feels like you’re watching one.

If you’ve been on the internet or talked to almost anyone in the past week, you’ve most likely heard of the most recent original series to debut on Netflix, Stranger Things.   The show focuses on the sudden disappearance of young Will Byers and the community of Hawkins, Indiana’s attempts to find him.  Among their search, Police Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and Will’s friends discover supernatural forces and uncover government secrets.  The show was critically praised for its strong eighties influences, which was initially what drew me to it.

Upon watching it, I was under the assumption that Stranger Things would merely reference 1980’s counterculture here and there.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t just parody or pay tribute to classics such as E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, The Goonies, or Alien.  It felt like one of those movies.  It was as if you half expected the likes of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, among other legendary filmmakers of the time, to be listed in the credits at the end.  The amount of references was too many to count (but definitely fun to look for).  This video is a side by side comparison of scenes from the show and the movie scenes that inspired it.

Stranger Things’ eighties influences are definitely a plus for the show, and if it were influenced by any other decade’s culture, I imagine it would still be good, but very different.  Perhaps it wouldn’t seem as iconic and maybe not as nostalgic, even if it was mirroring a time from a different decade.  The eighties touch to it just adds something that no other decade could replicate and that asks this question: what makes these eighties movies so enjoyable, iconic, and timeless thirty-plus years later?

In my opinion, eighties classics such as E.T., The Goonies, Back to the Future – even two-thirds of the original Star Wars trilogy, are unlike other movies from other decades.  They just seem to capture this perfect combination of child-like innocence, adventure, drama, and fun that not many other movies are able to do.  These are the kind of movies that you just enjoy watching.  They can be tense, stressful, dramatic, and even scary to a point…but in the end they’re always fun.  Matt and Ross Duffer, the creators of Stranger Things, had surely made this assumption, too, because they modeled their show under the same formula.  I imagine other shows that could try to combine all those elements would ultimately fail and the product would result in nothing more than a bad parody.  But Stranger Things takes these influences and builds from them, creating a show that can homage its subject while still standing on its own.

All in all, if you’re not into eighties culture, I think you’ll still enjoy the show.  If you’re not even aware of eighties culture, you’ll still enjoy the show.  But if anyone is like me, whose favorite films and music (the show has a killer soundtrack…no pun intended) derive from the eighties, you’re in for a real treat.

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