There’s a rule in journalism that it takes three to make a trend, and if it wasn’t clear before that Spielberg pastiches are a trend, it’s official now. Netflix released the trailer for Stranger Things on Thursday, and though it’s our first peek at the new series, you’ve seen it all before: It starts with teenage boys in ’80s bowl cuts riding through the suburbs on their bicycles, builds with lights mysteriously flickering on and off in the presence of supernatural events, and takes off when a 10- or 12-year-old boy with a single mother encounters a mysterious and possibly alien creature in his backyard toolshed. Meanwhile, a police chief in a peaceful small town struggles with sudden disappearances, and government goons in hazmat suits try to cover it all up.
Most of these same elements—from E.T. and Close Encounters and to a lesser extent Jaws—have also recently been recombined in only slightly different configurations in J.J. Abrams’ Spielberg-produced Amblin homage Super 8 (2011), Gareth Edwards’ very Spielbergian reboot of Godzilla (2014), and Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special (2016), which included elements of, for example, John Carpenter’s Starman, but came off first and foremost as a Spielberg pastiche. And that’s not even mentioning Colin Trevorrow’s 2015 blockbuster Jurassic World (also produced by Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment), which spent so much time reprising Jurassic Park’s greatest hits that it almost forgot to add anything of its own.
The reasons for why this is happening now seem pretty straightforward. The Gen X filmmakers who directed all these movies were children when Close Encounters and E.T. were released (all four are between 37 and 49 years old), and now that they’re coming to power as big-budget filmmakers in Hollywood, they want to try to recapture the magic they felt watching these movies as kids. The showrunners behind Stranger Things, twins Matt and Ross Duffer, seem to be a little younger than most of these other filmmakers (though executive producer Shawn Levy is 47), but they describe their relationship with the old Spielberg sci-fi blockbusters in the same hushed tones: “Steven Spielberg films were huge touchstones for us growing up,” Matt Duffer told the Telegraph. “We wanted to evoke the sense of wonder we remember from our childhood, from E.T. and from Stephen King novels.”
All those movies succeeded in recapturing at least a little of that magic, though they mostly paled in comparison to the originals for what they lacked: something new. We’ll find out on July 15 whether Stranger Things has the kind of freshness that really makes you stare on agape.
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