Saturday, 8 October 2016

Return to Kingland - "Stranger Things" is a great Stephen King TV series, except that he had nothing to do with it

In fact, it's probably the greatest Stephen King TV series of all time, including all those based on short stories or novels the great man actually wrote:

My wife and I,...

....having recently gained access to Netflix, spent three consecutive evenings this week devouring all eight episodes, and we only managed to make it last that long by exercising supreme will-power. I'd never heard of it, and we only started watching it because our son had mentioned the show in passing. About ten minutes in, I said "This is Stephen King - it has to be."

Most aspects of Kingland are in evidence - a 1980s small American town setting; a basically decent hero - the local sheriff - with addiction issues;  a bunch of unfeasibly bright and prematurely adult pre-teen chums being menaced by school bullies; a feisty working-class mom deserted by a useless jerk of a sleazeball husband, working all hours to provide for her two sons; a shunned teenage "outsider" who turns out to be infinitely superior to his persecutors; an obnoxious, socially confident rich kid who eventually deserts his horrible friends for the nice girl he loves; a secret government laboratory controlled by a deeply sinister mad scientist doing horrible experiments on kids - one of whom has ripped a hole in the space-time continuum, like they're always doing; kids battling a monster from another dimension; a sombre, unworldly little girl with psychokinetic powers, who is befriended and protected by the pre-teen gang - and who, in return, duffs up their tormentors (there's an extremely enjoyable sequence involving a thug being made to wet his pants in front of the whole school)...
The mysterious "Eleven"
As Stephen King tweeted: "Watching STRANGER THINGS is [like] watching Stephen King's Greatest Hits. I mean that in a good way." We stopped looking for references to the horrormeister's oeuvre after the first episode - they were just too abundant: pick just about any early Stephen King story or any of his main themes, and you'll find it in plain view here - he even gets a namecheck ("You ever read any Stephen King?"). Yes, there are plenty of references to other 1980s films, TV shows and music (there's a lot of Spielberg in there, plus quite a bit of John Carpenter) - but, ultimately, this is a homage to King, and a splendidly entertaining one at that. It wasn't a surprise to discover that Matt and Ross Duffer - the brothers who wrote and directed the series - did so after their request to adapt the King novel, It, had been rejected by Warner Brothers (the big screen version of the book, which features the ultimate "creepy clown",  is due out next year). Well, there's an awful lot of It in Stranger Things - plus dollops of Carrie, Stand By Me,  Firestarter, The Dead Zone etc.
Winona Ryder as "feisty working-class mom"
Gaten Matarazzo
Apart from great writing and directing, Stranger Things benefits from many strong acting performances. Everyone's on song, but I'll pick out a few of my favourites. Winona Ryder is in stonking form as the feisty mother whose little boy has disappeared after encountering something nasty in the woodshed. The best of the band of four chums is undoubtedly Gaten Matarazzo, whose charmingly plashy diction is the result ((as explained in the drama) of the condition cleidocranial dysplasia, meaning that his upper teeth haven't come through yet.

But the stand-out performance, in the role of the little girl whose telepathic powers have somewhat inconveniently created a portal into another dimension, is provided by crop-haired Millie Bobby Brown, a 12-year old English girl whose parents emigrated to Florida four years ago: her performance kept reminding me of Renee Maria Falconetti's haunting portrayal of Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 silent classic, The Passion of Joan of Arc - one of the greatest screen performances of all time. (To be fair, though, Joan of Arc couldn't break an assailant's arm with a flick of her head).
Millie Bobby Brown, about to get mediaeval on a baddie's ass
A second, nine part series of Stranger Things has been commissioned and is due to be shown next year. Can't wait. Let's hope viewers without access to Netflix get a chance to watch both series - it would be a terrible pity if they didn't: then again, you could always buy the boxset when it comes out. If you have any time for horror/fantasy/science fiction (and I know many people don't) I guarantee you'll consider it money well spent. Stranger Things is an absolute treat.

I can't any more video from the series on YouTube, but this "50 Things You Didn't Know About Stranger Things" video might further whet your appetite (or act as a massive spoiler - be warned!):

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