Friday, July 19, 2019

Random Netflix review: Stranger Things 3

There was much excited anticipation for the new season of Stranger Things. But the only question on my lips was not what new characters or plot developments would emerge but what pop cultural references would be pillaged from the 1980s. Well, it's two years since the last season, and the kids have progressed to John Hughes movies and shopping malls. We are in 1985, year of The Breakfast Club and Back to the Future; the guys have discovered girls and the girls have discovered shopping.

With three separate plots running parallel with the inevitability that they will all join together in the end, it's a rather predictable and soulless if fun series (a sort of paint it by numbers; compare it, if you want, with the third season of Twin Peaks, which took the viewer places they had no idea they wanted to go, building from the first two seasons and creating something wonderfully original), again wallowing in 1980s blockbusters and bad music (the first series had far better tunes).

However, what's even more shocking than the tacky '80s music or fashions is the strong anti-commie stance and the pro-capitalist message of its numerous product placements – Coke, Burger King, Gap, Adidas and Casio are just a handful of brands seen so repeatedly in the show that it comes across just like in The Truman Show, where products are awkwardly woven into the storyline. But whereas The Truman Show uses product placement for satirical means, there is no such irony or comment on society (or movies) in Stranger Things. It really does want you to Enjoy Coke, It's The Real Thing. As more than one website has quipped, it's now Sponsored Things.

Netflix insist they receive no money for product placements, though these free placements have been valued at $15 million. The Duffer brothers have also said the products are there as part of the narrative, but more than once the products actually interfere with the narrative flow.

Cinematically, again the Duffer brothers wear their references on their sleeves – no, make that their foreheads. Alongside Back to the Future and The Breakfast Club, other films mentioned or referenced range from Dawn of the Dead, Red Dawn and Invasion of the Body Snatchers to The Terminator, The Evil Dead, Christine, Rambo, The Thing, Alien and The Karate Kid. There's even a scene where one of the characters, Robin, names three old, black and white films as her favourites in an interview for a job in a video shop (Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, Carné's Children of Paradise – I’ve literally never heard it by that title and didn’t know what the hell it was until I realised it was Les Enfants du Paradis – and Wilder's The Apartment. All extremely unlikely, but hey, if any films mentioned in the series – all of which are more rewarding than Stranger Things – actually get watched by viewers, then it's a success).

To be fair, it's impossible to be original nowadays, though some do it with more...erm, originality. Horror director Jordan Peele* also wears his pop culture references tattooed on his forehead, citing such influences as The Shining, The Goonies, The Lost Boys and Hitchcock for his latest film, Us. I also saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Lady from Shanghai and Big, and noticed it was handy for actress Elisabeth Moss to go seamlessly from acting in The Handmaid's Tale to Us without having to change her red costume. Nevertheless, what comes across is an original, thoughtful and terrifying journey into the night (I've mentioned this before with the horror film It Follows, which transcends its John Carpenter-influenced origins).

But most stuff, especially if it comes out of Netflix, tends to be derivative. I saw I Am Your Mother recently, a Netflix sci-fi film, and virtually every scene reminded me of other, better, films (it's a curse having watched so much cinema): 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Retreat, Ex Machina, Aliens and Jurassic Park were just the obvious ones. Likewise, Spanish road movie 4L is Little Miss Sunshine meets Road Trip. Extinction is a bad and cliché-ridden District 9. The Perfect Date is sub-John Hughes garbage. You get the idea.

Earlier in the year Netflix were accused of plagiarising A Quiet Place, the hugely successful horror film, with their own version, The Silence. The plots are virtually identical – except A Quiet Place is good, and The Silence is terrible.

Netflix used to get accused a lot of showing 'mockbusters', low-budget films with similar titles or stories to proper blockbusters. They were usually made by film company The Asylum, who produce films such as Triassic World (based on: Jurassic World) and Tomb Invader (based on: Tomb Raider). Anyway, nothing wrong with a rip-off B-movie. All I have a problem with is every Netflix release calling itself A Netflix Original. Surely this should be A Netflix Unoriginal.

– 2.5 / 5

*It feels like Peele can do no wrong, but I have mixed feelings about his upcoming remake of Bernard Rose's classic horror Candyman. It reminds me slightly of the Italian director, Luca Guadagnino, who, after directing A Bigger Splash and Call Me By My Name, seemed like he could also do no wrong, until he remade the classic horror film Susperia (I was actually one of the few who enjoyed it as an interpretation rather than a remake – he tones down the original's colour palette and gives it some depth).

Previously on Barnflakes:
Random Netflix TV reviews

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