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The Stranger Things Secret? It’s Basically an 8-Hour Spielberg Movie

The Netflix original series Stranger Things, about a young boy who mysteriously vanishes from a small Indiana town, has become one of the summer’s most talked-about shows. Critic Andrew Liptak says the series evokes two of his favorite films, E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

“As I’ve been describing it to friends, it’s basically an eight-hour version of a Steven Spielberg movie,” Liptak says in Episode 216 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

Most TV series drag in places, or feature episodes that are pure filler, but Stranger Things starts with a bang and keeps the mysteries and plot twists coming fast and furious. “It’s paced in such a way that makes it very binge-watchable,” says writer Carli Velocci. “It’s very easy to get through in about a weekend.”

And like the classic films that inspired it, Stranger Things is pleasantly creepy without being shocking or extreme, which makes it perfect for viewers of all ages.

“It’s going back to this time that seems innocent, but was also remarkably inclusive for viewers,” says WIRED senior editor Peter Rubin. “And I think people are really responding to that.”

Liptak wishes the show had updated some of its more tired tropes, but overall he found it riveting and can’t wait for more.

“I was hooked from beginning to end,” he says. “I was just absolutely captured in a way that I really haven’t been captured by a show in a while.”

Listen to our complete interview with Andrew Liptak, Carli Velocci, and Peter Rubin in Episode 216 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Andrew Liptak on female characters:

“[Stranger Things] replicated the feel of a 1980s movie right down to the fact that it was a boys’ adventure, and it only focused on that. All the girls in the series, and all the women, were basically relegated off to the side. And there’s been a bit of commentary about this, but Barb, for example, was sort of just a side character that was summarily killed off. … And that falls in line with a lot of the ’80s movies—E.T is sort of the same way, Close Encounters is sort of the same way. Basically, while it was looking back at the 1980s, it didn’t think to really examine what those films did and re-examine it with a more modern sensibility.”

Andrew Liptak on ’80s sci-fi:

“The ’80s were a time of real experimentation and this real blossoming of science fiction cinema. … I think it’s a combination of a lot of teenagers being able to go to the movies, combined with a lot of films that were coming out that could make use of special effects. You had a lot of really talented actors who were coming onto the scene at that point, a lot of talented directors who were coming onto the scene at that point, and everything just sort of converged at the right point. I mean, in the same decade you’ve got Terminator, you’ve got Blade Runner, you’ve got Ghostbusters, E.T., all these really great films, just converging at this one point.”

Carli Velocci on child heroes:

“It’s not necessarily exclusive to ’80s movies, but I think something that we all kind of love about certain movies like Goonies and E.T. is that the children are the heroes. … There are these kids that are just being like, ‘Yeah we’re going to figure it out on our own,’ and then they go do that, and when we were kids that was so cool to watch, because it made us feel like we could do anything. … So I think that’s also something that spans generations and age ranges, because younger people can watch Stranger Things and connect with the ages of the characters, but then we can be like, ‘We were that age once. What was our life like?’”

Peter Rubin on the future of Stranger Things:

“I’d like to see this as an anthology model. … I’d like to see Stranger Things come back, but I don’t think that ‘stranger thing’ necessarily needs to be the petal-head monster or the Upside Down. I think it could be a similarly atmospheric exploration of any of the other things that informed that era, whether it was Satanic Panic, or UFO conspiracies, or kidnappings or what have you, slasher movies. There were so many cinematic and sociological influences that I think it could very well be that American Crime Story model, where each season you get this fast, propulsive, satisfying, eight-episode joy ride through one of those facets of the ’80s.”

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