1. A yearning for the return of past circumstances, events, etc.
2. The evocation of this emotion in a movie, book, creative medium
3. Longing for home or family, homesickness
Ref: Collins English Dictionary
So, what is it about nostalgia? Why does it seem that we do indeed, yearn for past circumstances? Of course, our past makes us who we are. We learn from our experiences, both good and even more so, through bad ones. There is no harm in reminiscing about past pleasures, either. This should be encouraged yet, measured. For one cannot always look back.
Looking ahead brings challenge and further broadening of horizons.
However, it seems that in 2016, we are being subjected to an onslaught of nostalgia through the prism that is big-budget Hollywood productions. The issue, this Promoter has with the onslaught, is that it comes with a price. The price is a detrimental impact upon originality and creativity in the storytelling.
Notably, in 2015/16 we’ve had Star Wars, The Force Awakens (Episode VII) and more recently, the Ghostbusters reboot. Both movies were released to much fanfare and hoopla. Did they warrant all this conjured excitement? In the case of Star Wars, ‘hell no!’. The ‘excitement’ was monumental, a tsunami of nostalgic hysteria, fuelled by associated media and the press. This amounted to, in this Promoter’s opinion (hands up, don’t shoot!) ultimately, a trick upon the populace. There was little of substance which took the franchise onwards in such a manner that one could actually say, ‘wow, I can’t wait for the next instalment’. Significant roles were played by the original actors many having their best days far behind them – galaxies behind them. (Time waits for no one).
[Did anyone else feel like this after Star Wars, 2016?]
Ultimately, the movie producers played it safe. There were no risks taken. Return of the Jedi, as we, Generation X’ers had seen it – hit the big screens worldwide in 1983 and it was magnificent. An original, action-packed, sci-fi thriller from start to finish. This is what we yearned for. Did we get it? No. Instead we got a one-dimensional sentimental journey down memory lane.
Ghostbusters (the reboot) took a few more risks and this has to be commended. The all-female team (we won’t count Kevin the Beefcake Receptionist!) provided a new focus and plenty of female-focussed one liners. It didn’t however, push the creative boundaries enough. The plot was chaotic (after a good start), the nemesis appearing to have all the super-powers a plasmonic ghost-like entity could ever wish to have. The ‘possessing, shape-shifting ghost-thingy’ failed miserably to even rattle the collective cages of our ‘feminine ectoplasmic ass-kickers’, never mind the cinematic audiences.
Again, the objective of the exercise was to appeal to the mainstream and this resulted in a degradation of plot and ultimately the enjoyment of the movie. You see, there should be no reason why, with a little more risk and creative thought, that adults and children alike could enjoy these ‘nostalgic’ blockbusters just as much as their franchise predecessors. Think of The Simpsons. The cartoon medium plays to the baser imaginative instincts of the young and yet each episode is laced with lavish examples of adult humour. It’s a winning formula. Everyone feels their entertainment needs are being met. That their intellect is being considered accordingly. This is why The Simpsons is such a long lasting success.
So, given the opportunity that an elongated platform for creativity which an 8-part mini-series can bring, what did the Duffer Brothers bring to the super-natural genre with Netflix’s ‘Original’ Series: Stranger Things?
‘They say they don’t make them like they used to… holy sh*t, they sure do!’ was the gist from an acquaintance on Facebook, singing the praises of Stranger Things. The Promoter had to see what all the fuss about. First impressions were good, a ‘Goonies-like’ band of pre-pubescent friends are subjected to the mysterious disappearance of one their own. And then the John Carpenter-esque opening credits roll and immediately it begins to feel like a differential on the ‘nostalgia-hyped’ platform. Unsurprisingly, it was certainly more edgy.
For whatever reason, Stranger Things feels different than the two aforementioned movies. Perhaps it’s because it is actually the first in a potential franchise. There are no predecessors to nostalgically ‘bounce’ off. But is it truly original? The answer to this question would be an emphatic ‘no’.
The creative pallet of the mini-series concept provides Stranger Things with the advantage of enabling character development. Winona Ryder is exceptional as the desperate mother of the missing boy, slowly plunging through the depths of despair with every desperate minute. She is eventually aided by the factual, resolute, strong and hard-living Sherriff Hopper (played excellently by David Harbour) – he’d certainly be a Loose Leaf Tea drinker, if only for his lifestyle of hard-liquor and prescription pills. Together, Sheriff Hopper and Joyce Byers begin to put the pieces of the super-natural puzzle together.
All clues lead towards the Hawkins Test facility, a ‘Top- Secret’ scientific institution akin to a military base. It is here that a portal into another dimension (The Upside Down) has been opened and a faceless electrically-charged beast attracted to human blood released. It’s the human interactions, the relationships throughout which sets Stranger Things apart, providing an emotional depth sorely lacking in majority of Hollywood Blockbusters. Do we really care about the blockbuster movie protagonists? Not really. It’s this humanistic, emotional counter-balance against the super-natural forces which the Duffer Brothers get so right.
The mini-series itself is essentially a mash up of so many paranormal / sci-fi hits from both novels and film reel of the 70’s and 80’s. Notable mentions include the frustratingly near-mute girl with telekinetic powers (Carrie), the evil scientist’s goal of making her the ‘game-changing’ weapon in the paranoia of the cold war (Firestarter, The Mist), the portal to another dimension (From a Buick 8 published: 2002 admittedly), the band of boys themselves (The Goonies, IT, Stand By Me), the aesthetics of the Upside Down Dimension, (Aliens) Evil Dr. Brenner (Max Zorin) and an inundation of references to E.T. Even, Chief Hopper has a striking resemblance to Jack Torrance from The Shining!
The advantage of the mini-series configuration is that the excessive number of ‘nostalgic’ references (there’s even more, if you look! Competition Time, folks!) are somewhat diluted with the running time. However, it does not negate the confused and under-whelming ending of Stranger Things.
Just like many super-natural thrillers of the past, it’s the journey of getting to the terminus which is most memorable, not quite the ending.
[Spot the reference in the series!]