By Ben Bussey
Up until this moment, BAH may have been the only horror-related site to have not published anything on the subject of Stranger Things. Plenty of Netflix original films and TV shows have become talking points, but few if any have made quite the same sensation as this 1980s-set drama which manages to homage countless movies of that era without ever coming off as a direct rip-off of any of them. Series creators Matt and Ross Duffer have worn their influences like band patches on their stonewashed denim jacket sleeves, yet the story they have told has still managed to feel wholly fresh and original.
As such, it’s interesting – though not necessarily too surprising – to learn that things could have been altogether different, as the Duffer Brothers have revealed that the series was born out of their disappointment at being denied the chance to direct a movie adaptation of a story to which Stranger Things clearly owes a significant debt: Stephen King’s It.
Here’s how the brothers break it down to The Hollywood Reporter:
Matt: We asked, and that’s why we ended up doing this, because we’d asked Warner Brothers. I was like, “Please,” and they were like, “No.” This was before [director] Cary Fukunaga. This was a long time ago.
Ross: When we asked to do it was before, then he got on it afterwards because he’s established. So, he got on it and we were excited just because we’re huge fans of what he does, and one of the few people who hasn’t made a bad movie. So, that was exciting to us, but also, we were seeing trailers for True Detective, we’re like, “I kind of want to see. How do you do It in two hours? Even if you’re separating the kids, how do you do that right?” You don’t really fall in love with them the same way you’re going to when I read that book. So, how much more excited would I be if Cary Fukunaga was doing that for HBO or he was doing that for Netflix?
There were a lot of different discussions we were having around this time, and a lot of it centered around how exciting TV was becoming and how cinematic it was. Certainly one of those discussions brought us back to It and how we wish it was an eight- or ten-hour miniseries.
Matt: It’s like, “Could you be truer to the sensibilities of It if you had eight or ten hours?” We thought that you probably could more than if you were confined to two hours. At least that’s how we made ourselves feel better about not getting the movie adaptation. We still would have done it, obviously. I’m really excited about that movie. I think it will be cool.
Fukunaga has since left It, to be replaced by Mama director Andy Muschietti, and we can look forward (hopefully?) to the It movie in 2017. But for our purposes right now – this surely stands as a great an example of any of how not getting what you wish for can prove to be a very good thing.
Other instances come to mind, of course. George Lucas’s inability to secure the film rights to Flash Gordon led him to create his own little story called Star Wars. Steven Spielberg later agreed to direct Raiders of the Lost Ark for Lucas out of his frustration at being turned down to direct a James Bond movie. Sam Raimi couldn’t get the rights to The Shadow, and so instead he made Darkman.
So it is for Matt and Ross Duffer – and so it is that they are now revered not only as excellent screenwriters, directors and showrunners, but as bona fide creators in their own right. And isn’t that a hell of a lot better? Isn’t that what everyone who sets out to make movies and TV really wants – to create something of their very own?
Of course, at the multiplexes we’re seeing less and less of that of late. Almost every new major film that comes along is a sequel or remake of some description – even when, as is often the case, the end results bear little more than a passing resemblance to the earlier material. Fans of the original are invariably wind up incensed if it strays too far or if it adheres too closely to what went before, which begs the question – why not just do something new?
Stranger Things demonstrates that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking influence and borrowing liberally from properties you love (and they really did borrow heavily, as this article at Vulture details), so long as you do it right; put the characters first, treat them seriously, and concentrate on telling their story, allowing your reference points to be part of the language of the piece, but not the be-all and end-all.
Put simply – if you haven’t watched Stranger Things, you really should. Trust me, the hype is warranted in this instance.