It’s been fascinating to watch the progress of Hollywood and the wider mainstream media’s commercialization of pop culture nostalgia over the last ten years. The trend has been broadly chronological, with film studios and TV executives thoroughly plumbing the depths of the 80s before moving onto untapped veins of things that only 90s kids will remember (see the upcoming Power Rangers movie), but there have been a handful of treasured childhood favourites that have been seemingly declared off-limits: we’ve gotten remakes and re-adaptations galore of properties like Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that were designed to sell toys in the first place, but no one has directly touched those pre-digital classics deemed to have more artistic merit, chief among them the 80s output of Steven Spielberg.
Instead, we’ve gotten a small share of homages, such as the 2011 movie Super 8. The discourse surrounding that movie was interesting to me, because I’ve never seen most of the films by The Master that the movie was drawing on– I wasn’t even alive for most of them– and have absolutely zero nostalgia or affection for either those movies specifically, or that period of film-making in general. So while critics argued in endless circles over whether Super 8 was too much of a homage or not enough of a homage and to what extent it succeeded at doing what it set out to do, I approached it with no expectations and ended up liking it more than most people did.
Which brings us to Stranger Things, a similar attempt to tap into the atmosphere and trappings of a bygone era of childhood entertainment that I only dimly remember at best. Specifically, in drawing from old Stephen King novels like Firestarter and IT alongside the expected ET and Close Encounters, the series is aiming somewhere between the kind of adults-only horror movie that you watched on TV when your parents weren’t looking and that realm of kids movies that are just edgy and scary enough to bring them right up to the line of being too much for the intended audience to handle– the kinds of films that cranky pre-Millenials insist were once common staples of kid’s programming before the entire media landscape became wussified sometime in the 90s. Whether or not it succeeds as a pastiche of these things, I can’t say (and don’t care to begin with), but how does it hold up on its own merits?