Slimier Things

Why are dystopian road movies all full of people wearing leather, and yet we never see any cows in them?

I’ll never forget Roger Ebert asking Gene Siskel that while reviewing a Road Warrior knockoff in the late ’80s. It seemed like a fair question to me at the time, since I hardly gave a damn about the movies then. Years later, of course, I would have found it a buzzkill. It’s a movie! Suspend that disbelief.

Coincidentally, this week a friend sent me a very funny 2003 article entitled “The Biology of B-Movie Monsters” on the same day I decided I really ought to finish watching Stranger Things, the Netflix hit of the summer that I’d lost interest in. The article, by marine biologist Michael LaBarbera, is full of musing like, “Enlarging an insect to this size raises other interesting problems that don’t arise with large vertebrates. Take the respiratory system.”

Yes, take the respiratory system. LaBarbera uses his favorite old films to give us some readable discourse about the kind of work his colleagues do, studying the metabolism of shrews and all that, so he’s not really defending disbelief. And yet I could not get around my own disbelief about Stranger Things, which was, by most accounts, just enjoyable TV. Friends kept saying they sat and watched the whole miniseries in two sittings, and I’d shyly say I’d gotten to the last episode and couldn’t finish it.

stranger-things-eleven-image-0

The girl in the vintage dress is the only person who knows what the hell she’s doing.

Not that the series lacks its charms, like seeing Matthew Modine return with a sinister side. As Vox points out in a profile of the designers who did the series’ opening credits, Stranger Things gets a lot of things right about the period, the early ’80s. But it also has a very contemporary girl power message.

I often say that thrillers are defined by the nexus of evil inside them. Is it supernatural? Science fiction? Government conspiracy? Corporate? A killer on the loose? The series is not a thriller, so different rules apply, but eventually I want to know, what kind of villain are we facing here? What’s it going to take to topple it?

As the title implies, there’s always something stranger in Stranger Things, and that bottomlessness leaves me unsatisfied. It’s a government coverup of a military-scientific experiment gone awry, with a cheap Freudian father-daughter thing at the center, and a break into the extra-dimension. Robert Rodriguez can do this in Planet Terror, since he’s playing for laughs, but after four hours I want to know just how strange things are.

It also hurts the series that it’s so innocent. You know you’re never really going to see anything gruesome: The first three minutes of Saving Private Ryan are scarier. It compensates by dialing up the gross factor. The portals to the next dimension aren’t clean, Escher-like discontinuities, they’re nonsensically membraneous, and the parallel world covered in slime, a place where walking causes the sucking sound of aspic being tossed from a vacuum-sealed can. I found myself wanting to skim the action scenes and get to the unrequited teen romance.

A lot of people are looking forward to the return of this series. I guess, like M.J. in the “Thriller” video, “I’m not like other guys.”

Comments

  1. Soham Mehta says:

    Love that last line.

    On Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at 6:29 AM, More Has To Happen wrote:

    > morehastohappen posted: “Why are dystopian road movies all full of people > wearing leather, and yet we never see any cows in them? I’ll never forget > Roger Ebert asking Gene Siskel that while reviewing a Road Warrior knockoff > in the late ’80s. It seemed like a fair question to me ” >

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