How do you feel about the smell of dirt? How about freshly cut grass? Maybe the smell of salt air near the ocean? The point being, nostalgia is a powerful thing and smell is just one catalyst for triggering long dormant memories of the distant past. This summer, Stranger Things (2016) on Netflix helped bring back a flood of nostalgic memories. All of this occurred at time when I needed it the most.
As a child of the 80’s, I grew up with an entire genre of adventure films where the main protagonists were young people. Films such as E.T. (1982), The Goonies (1985), and the critically under-rated Monster Squad (1987) defined my childhood. For me, these films bring me back to the smells of earth trodden under foot and rainy summer afternoons. When I watch Monster Squad I remember sharpening wooden stakes in the garage, just in case Dracula and pals were to show up on my street.
If you have never seen Monster Squad, do yourself a favor and check it out ASAP. It was written by the guy who directed Iron Man 3 (2013) and The Nice Guys (2016), and, like the title suggests, it involves a Monster Squad. Basically, a group of tweens are forced to battle a menagerie of classic monsters, ranging from the Wolfman to the Mummy and even the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The monsters are all led by Dracula in a quest to retrieve a mystical amulet, but the kids in the squad have a special weapon… Frankenstein’s Monster. Boasting fantastic creature designs by Stan Winston and his studio, the film brings a sense of dark humor and adventure to what admittedly sounds like a ridiculous premise. Monster Squad is as memorable as it is quotable and, depending on what day you ask, I rank it above The Goonies in terms of the genre.
The Goonies is most likely the seminal work of this genre in most people’s opinion. Again, most days I would completely agree. It has a little bit of everything in terms of sparking a young imagination.
Treasure Maps. Check!
Booby Traps. Check!
See? It’s nearly perfect.
What kid in the 80’s didn’t want to go on their own “goonies” adventure to try and find One-Eyed Willie’s treasure? I know I spent many a weekend traipsing through the woods of suburban Virginia Beach (yes, there were woods once) following a well-worn map, looking for untold riches. Those were great days.
What Stranger Things does is combine the best aspects of that time period and those genres to build a story that lives and dies by its own nostalgia. Overall, it succeeds with flying colors. The story follows a group of youngsters trying to find their friend who has gone missing. Along the way, they meet a mysterious girl who is more than a little strange herself and something even stranger (and darker) lurking in the spaces between. The strength of the series, which is comprised of eight episodes, resides in the strength of the principle children actors. Each character is clearly defined and well-acted, which is exactly why films like E.T. and even the recent addition to the genre, Super 8 (2012), play so well with the youthful sense of adventure. They capture what it means to not be bound by bills or jobs. These are kids acting like kids. Sure the situations are extreme, but so is the imagination of a child.
What Stranger Things did for me was help me remember what adventure can mean. It doesn’t always have to be imagined with adults like Tom Cruise or Sigourney Weaver in the lead role. Rather, it can be just as exciting and inspiring when we think back to our youth and our days of limitless imagination. So rekindle your past sense of adventure. Remember what it was like to see magic under every stone and treasure behind each locked door.
If you have made it this far into my discussion, now is the time where I note that I will be leaving you all. This will be my last blog with the Chesapeake Public Library because I am off on my own adventure westward to Washington State. It has been a great two years blogging and discussing film with all of you. I hope that in the near future someone new will take up my mantle and continue to write about film here at the library. Who knows, maybe I will even guest blog every once in a while. There are new Star Wars films scheduled from here to infinity after all. So it is here that I leave you…