Steven Spielberg didn’t exactly have the best box office outcome this past weekend with The BFG, but in a way he’ll be back next week with what looks like a bigger and more classic hit on the small screen. Launching on July 15 on Netflix, the Winona Ryder-led eight-episode Stranger Things is nothing if not a surprising, sometimes scary, moving and successful homage to the era of Spielberg’s ET and the 1980s themselves — as well as the films of the great John Carpenter.
Starting with a game of Dungeons and Dragons on a November night in Indiana in 1983, the series created by Matt and Ross Duffer and executive produced by Shawn Levy is actually not an imitation, and features a genre-debuting performance of frenzied fantastic-ness from Ryder. She portrays a single mom trying to discover what is really going on in her small town in this tale of a missing child (played by Noah Schnnapp).
Enlisting the reluctant help of the weary local police chief, portrayed by a wonderfully grizzled David Harbour of The Newsroom pus her eldest son Jonathan, played by a great Charlie Heaton, and a trio of her youngest sons’ pals (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin), Ryder’s Joyce Byers soon discovers, as one does in these type of things, that much more is going on.
Add to that a mysterious 11-year-old girl, played by a truly marvelous Millie Brown, government experiments, Matthew Modine, mixtapes, some Joy Division and more and I think you will be absorbed in the show as I was – even if you didn’t grow up in the Reagan Era. Also, a shout-out has to go to production designer Chris Trujillo and cinematographer Tim Ives for so astutely capturing not just the look but the tome of the time – a rare feat on either the big or small screen.
Yes, there are a lot of clichés in Stranger Things, but like outdoor string lights, they all hold together. They also cast a warm glow on the sheer enthusiasm and respect the series has for those who have come before and a very particular time in America’s recent history that now feels so far and so close at the same time.
Check out my video review of Stranger Things and tell us if you’ll be bingeing next weekend.