Both seasons of the Netflix series, Stranger Things, have combined the familiarity of the 1980s and the terrifying unknown of dark fantasy worlds. Creators Matt and Ross Duffer and producer/director Shawn Levy have mastered the art of balancing multiple genres and emitting an array of moods that leave viewers perplexed, terrified, and nostalgic. Gina McIntyre’s Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down: The Official Behind-the-Scenes Companion is a compelling look into all of the creative pieces that have come together to create a pop culture sensation.
At first glance, the book jacket looks worn and tattered, but this was purposeful, so that readers feel as though they are holding a cultural artifact. The behind-the-scenes journey into the creation of the spellbinding series certainly is culturally significant. Stranger Things didn’t just pop up out of anywhere; it was inspired, influenced, and shaped by so many creative artists. In their foreword, the Duffer brothers mention the impact of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, in particular, throughout their creative journey. This book points out specific novels and films that audiences can glimpse flashes of when watching the series. Stranger Things is not just a pop culture craze of the present day; it is the amalgamation of 1970s and 1980s sci-fi and horror. It taps into the feelings of these iconic works that were both genre-shaping and genre-bending. The genius of the Duffer brothers is their ability to embody what’s recognizable but still make it alluring and terrifying. This book describes the influential sources that viewers may have recognized already. If not, they now have a list of novels and films worthy of reading and watching.
The book includes background information on the actors and the ways that the characters were developed. McIntyre provides direct quotes from the actors, the Duffer brothers, and Shawn Levy that give readers inside access to the collaboration that has been involved in building these characters. The character profiles of the key players describe the ways that the characters evolved from conception to screen. The only thing missing is a profile of Bob Newby (Sean Astin), which I find to be much desired given his integral role in season 2 and the fact the Astin is known for an iconic film of the ’80s, The Goonies (1985).
While the acting is brilliant and the depth of characters continues to be presented to audiences, the cultural impact of Stranger Things also has a lot to do with its world-building ability. The book discusses the nuances and intricacies involved in the set design. The creative team aimed to capture the time period within the houses, putting great thought into every piece of furniture and style of wallpaper. The end result is a setting that visually transports viewers to a time that is recent enough to be in many of our memories but distant enough to feel like we are viewing a time period piece. The set effectively draws out our nostalgia for the ’80s and, in particular, for the feelings that we experience every time we watch a film from that time. And then there’s the Upside Down—where we are transported to a creepy alternate universe that we can’t really explain. Reading about how this world was constructed gives insight in the small details that have a big impact on the mood and atmosphere of the show.
Another aspect of this book that makes it a must-read for Stranger Things fans is the breakdown of how key scenes were filmed. It’s fun to learn the process of creating some of the most memorable moments of seasons 1 and 2 (like Eleven’s van toss). These explanations show the ways that creative efforts come together to create mind-blowing moments that add to the drama, horror, and adventure of the series.
The book also has its own mysteries embedded within. There is a morse code key and secret messages hidden throughout. The readers are tasked with solving their own puzzles while reading about the creation process of a genre-bending pop culture masterpiece.
Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down is a fun ride for fans of the show. It is well organized and filled with photos of both key scenes and scene creation. McIntyre gives readers insight into how this world was constructed, but the mysteries of Hawkins still remain. As we anxiously await season 3, the Epilogue provides a sneak peek description of a new set and some new characters coming to Hawkins for the third installment of mystery and drama. The book, like the series itself, simultaneously satisfies and leaves readers itching for the next season to come.
Creative Team: Matt and Ross Duffer (foreword), Shawn Levy (afterword), Gina McIntyre (writer)
Publisher: Del Rey
Producer: Melcher Media
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