Stranger Things

stranger things 2

If you haven’t started streaming Stranger Things, you need to. Like, now. Still not convinced by that epic promo art? Then allow me…

Fellow Children of the 80s, if you cannot watch the opening scenes and credit sequence without feeling it strike a cord in the deepest pit of your stomach, then you might have been in a coma for some of your childhood. This shows speaks in the language of our yesteryears through the set, the clothes, the homes, and the technology (rotary phones and Christmas lights…just wait). It speaks the language of Stephen King–even if you never read any King, you were familiar with that language, because the movie adaptations of his books were just as influential as the novels themselves. Stranger Things is also fluent in 80s cinema, and you may recognize a lot of images, themes, and motifs. If you aren’t into that stuff, that’s okay. Maybe you’re like me and will just recognize those familiar things in the back of your mind, even if you can’t put your finger on why you love it so much. The show is rife with echoes of E.T., Goonies, alien film staples such as Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and They Live, and a score–let me gush about the score for a minute–that takes cue from John Carpenter, which makes a huge impact on the overall tone. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, a pair of relative unknowns, know their shit and they liberally apply that knowledge. As for the Duffer Brothers, the genius creators, they are familiar with all of the above sources and paying hefty homage.

I gotta be honest, I fall in love with movies all the time, but TV shows have to work a lot harder to capture my heart without reservation. It was only after consuming the first season that, in my awed state, I went on a search for what it was that had so endeared me to this Netflix gem. After stumbling around the interwebs, I realized it was nostalgia. A thick, goopy layer of nostalgia poured like honey over phenomenal casting, an engaging, expertly simple story line, and a heavy atmosphere with a self-aware and direct aim.

Who Stranger Things is for:

Everyone: People who love iconic sci-fi, horror, adolescent adventures; Stephen King fans; Goonies fans. The setting plays a huge role in the show, so those who grew up in that decade will find a special place in their hearts for ST.

Please don’t disregard this show because you don’t consider yourself a sci-fi/horror fan. Stranger Things steps outside of its genre(s) to deliver something truly unique. How does it do this? Well, let’s see…

Why Stranger Things is awesome:

PLOT

A great story with a tight plot. As my husband pointed out, there is not a single wasted scene in the eight episodes. The story is so good that even without dramatic cliffhangers–a cheap device to keep viewers watching–you must keep watching.

CHARACTERS

The show is often described as being about the disappearance of Will Byers in small town, Hawkins, Indiana. While that is certainly what drives the plot, it’s such a watered down description in light of the life-like, deftly crafted characters.

My favorite character arc is Chief Hopper’s. Jim Hopper is the unexpectedly observant Chief of Police in this small town where the worst thing that ever happened “was when an owl attacked Eleanor Gillespie because it thought her hair was a nest”. But there’s also the double-shift-working, end-of-her-rope mom, Joyce Byers (Wynona Ryder), who will do anything for her children, including let the entire town think she’s insane. #NoRegrets

Then, you have the healthy dose of adolescent drama, via newly-elevated-to-cool status Nancy, her “what exactly are your intentions, young man” cool guy boyfriend, and social outcast, everyone-probably-thinks-I’m-responsible-for-my-missing-little-brother, Jonathan. And we mustn’t leave out the mute-when-it’s-convenient little girl who loves Eggos and has awesome but also truly terrifying superhero abilities.

I bet you’re wondering why would I compare a show with these characters to the Goonies? Well, it’s because of the trio of D&D-playing, sneaking-out and rule-disobeying friends of the disappeared Will. They provide a lightness of boy wonder and comedy that offsets the heavier themes of the show. But don’t let their jokes and scuffles fool you. They are serious about getting their friend back.

boys

With this motley cast, see why Stranger Things is for everyone? I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to give anything away. But I will say that even when these characters make mistakes, you forgive them, and you may even love them more.

INFLUENCES 

The long line of cinematic lineage it takes inspiration from–how can you not appreciate something so broad in scope and beautifully executed? [Potential spoilers in that film reference list–watch the show first.] There’s also covert pop culture references like Silent Hill and Scarlet Johansson’s 2013 Under the Skin.

MULTI-GENRE

Stranger Things has a little bit of everything: humor, heart, sci-fi, adventure, horror, and, of course, romance.

I’ve been on a hunt since mainlining the show for similar shows, movies, books, anything. These two lists suggest what to read and stream after obsessively binge watching Stranger Things. Again, watch the show before perusing these lists lest you be spoil’t.

A Reading List for Everyone Who Is Now Obsessed with Stranger Things

What to Stream After You’re Done Watching Stranger Things

Have you seen Netflix’s latest masterpiece? Why do you love it? If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?! Or I guess I should ask, what are you watching instead? o.O

 

To Read the Book First, Or Watch the Movie?

I love books. I love movies. What could be better than the two mediums joining forces to visually interpret a brilliant literary work or enjoyable novel with all of the wonderful elements exclusive to cinema, like thoughtfully executed lighting, balanced, striking composition, and illuminating music? One of my absolute favorite examples of this near-flawless transition is Cary Fukunaga’s 2011 Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre cover            jane eyre poster

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels, so of course I am going to love its film adaptations. Truly though, Fukunaga does such a great job with Jane’s emotional strife; he emphasize the starkness of Jane’s childhood and later, Thornfield Hall, with the monochrome colors and studies in contrast; and alludes to the mystery at the belly of the house with the warmer colors, the firelight and night lighting, and the sounds that convey the gothic elements restlessly turning at the film’s core. Of course, no movie could ever match the effect of the book because they are two SEPARATE entities, but there are good adaptations and bad ones. And I have seen other adaptations that were good, but Fukunaga’s is a work of art that captures the breathtaking emotion and courage distilled in the pages of Brontë’s novel.

So, back to our original question: to read the book first or watch the movie? ‘Tis an age-old debate, where I believe many fall on the side I will be arguing for. But let’s take a moment to consider the other side.

A coworker of mine claims he prefers to watch the movie (based on a book) first. Otherwise, he watches the movie while internally bashing the characters and events that don’t match up with what he’d imagined when reading the book.  This was appalling to me, but hey, to each his or her own, right?

Reading the book first gives me the chance to envision it in its perfect form, to traverse that precious space only reader of the writer’s work can access: it is a realm where the writer’s story goes to wait (most literally) until the reader comes along to experience it. In that perfect space, it doesn’t matter that what the reader experiences isn’t exactly—or even close to—what the writer experienced writing it. What matters is that the writer weaves his tale to have those threads unravelled by the reader on his or her journey to find the origins of each thread. Let me explain what I mean here, and let me volunteer a nugget of Stephen King wisdom to assist me.

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” On Writing 

This is something a movie can never hope to do, because it lays everything out for you. But when you read a book, you are screenwriter, producer, and director. You are a kind of co-author. It is the highest achievement writer and reader can attain together, that bridge between conception and conceiving.

So, when the book is read first, and the movie seen second, it affords the opportunity of two different kinds of enjoyment, two experiences of one event:

The pleasure of reading it

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Jane Eyre

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The pleasure of seeing it the way another person envisioned it when they (hopefully) read it

So given my amateur arguments, do they adequately represent your preference, whatever it is? Do you prefer to watch the movie first or read the book? Maybe you’re at one of the extreme ends of the spectrum. Maybe you’re completely against film adaptations of novels. Or maybe you always ‘wait for the movie’ and never open the book. In closing, I will reach again for the aforementioned cliché: to each his or her own.