Thursday, October 13, 2016

How I feel about Stranger Things

I feel like there was a lot of hype about Stranger Things (2016), the new Netflix show, so I wanted to know for myself why everyone was fah-reaking out about it. I watched the whole season (8 episodes) over the past couple weeks ...

I really, really wanted to like it. But I didn't.

Let me say that there were a lot of things I did like about the show. 1) The production design. It's set in the 80s, and I feel like the designers did a fantastic job. I wasn't alive in the 80s, but I do know good design when I see it, and I would give their design team an A. It's really nice and fun and nostalgic. 2) I liked the child actors. I thought the boys, especially Dustin, were quite good. I believed them. 3) I watched every episode and didn't quit, so that means that there was something drawing me in. Haven't quite put my finger on it ... Was it the 80s music?

I think the first issue I had with Stranger things is that it was eight hour-long episodes. It could have been a 90-minute film. I felt like the plot just wasn't actually that eventful and it was stretched out way longer than it should have been. Every episode had the same basic elements: "We have to find Will," Winona Ryder having a breakdown, one kid getting mad at another kid, some kind of encounter with a bully, the chief of police sneaking around, a flashback, and the climax when Eleven does something that gives her a bloody nose. I think each of those things happened a few too many times. Again, it would have made a pretty good movie if all of the plot points were condensed into an hour and a half.

I love Winona Ryder for real. She usually plays kind of a melancholy, or even deadbeat, character and that super works for her. Seeing her as a hysterical mom just wasn't quite what I wanted from her and it inched toward the annoying side. I also thought it was a shame that she had pretty much no character development. She starts out as a mess, and is pretty much a mess throughout.

I like the sci-fi genre in general, and I love thrillers. However, I think there is one brilliant thing about scary movies that Stranger Things did wrong (in my opinion). They revealed the monster too early. Part of what makes a scary movie scary is the unknown. We're scared when we don't actually know what we're afraid of. Think Jaws (1975). The actual shark isn't shown until at least halfway through the movie. It's the musical theme and the hints at the shark's presence that makes our hair stand on end. Stranger Things showed us the whole monster in the first or second episode. We know what we're up against very early on, and while it is a gruesome creature, the unknown element is gone.

I had a minor issue with Hopper, the police chief. It's unclear whether the writers wanted us to identify with him or not, or at least sympathize. They set him up as kind of this fallen hero. But he never actually redeems himself. He kind of sneaks around and I'm not sure if he's solving this mystery for himself, because it's his job, or because Joyce is his friend. Does he see Will as a proxy for his daughter and feels like he needs to save him because he couldn't save his daughter? I think that's what they were getting at, but they didn't get at that till the very last episode... I just had a hard time understanding the character's motives throughout. At the end, too, they make it look like he's made deal with the bad guys ... I just didn't get him. That could totally be my bad though.

Lucas, while such an adorable boy, was also flat. He flip flops between hating Eleven and being buddy buddy with the group, but there's just no explanation for it. Does Lucas have a family? What's his deal? I just found out today that SNL did a sketch about that which touched on my questions I had in my head about Lucas the whole season, and it's pretty hilarious. Watch here.

I also cringed a little bit when Steve swoops in and whacks the monster with a baseball bat when it should have been Jonathan. He gets this big heroic moment after being a huge jerk every episode. It could be argued that it's his turning point when he decides not to be terrible anymore, but it bummed me out.

I really don't like to criticize films because every piece of cinema was made by caring people who love what they do and just want to make stuff. These people actually made a thing that people are watching, and that is definitely worth something. Like I said, it wasn't bad, I just wish it had been a movie instead of eight hours of tv.

They set up the last episode so that they could make a second season, but to be honest I don't think I'll watch it if it has the same conflicts going on. It's called Stranger ThingS, which means they could explore a lot more strange things and monsters and people. It might even be cool if the second season had a completely different cast and characters and plot. Kind of like a Twilight Zone type of thing.

Please don't hate me.


kyliebrooke|s said...

i'm on episode 3 or 4 now...and i'm already feeling a lot of what you said. i am still loving winona so much though.

kirsten said...

Amen to this. You're the best film critic I know