The fourth season ending of “Stranger Things” recalled a few classic scenes. A crack split the ground as Max, the final sacrifice of Big Bad Vecna, died for a few minutes (don’t worry – it was only a few minutes), giving the monstrous Upside Down the opening it needed. Pulsing with red fire, most of the town mistook the widening doorway of another dimension for a more natural disaster.
That instantly brought me back to a beloved film, one of those relics from childhood that was so difficult to find as an adult, and as no one else seemed to remember it, I was almost convinced it never happened: “Timescape,” a 1992 film starring Jeff Daniels. (It was renamed for the video release: “Grand Tour: Adventure in Time,” which might be part of the issue.) In the film, a town deals with tragedy while a widowed innkeeper and his daughter realize some of their guests are from the future and have come to “observe” the disaster. Spoiler: it’s not going to be just one disaster.
The “Stranger Things” finale also called back another ’80s classic: “Red Dawn,” where a gang of teens, including Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, fight back when their small town is invaded by Russian troops. But the direction “Stranger Things” seems most likely to be headed in recalls a much more recent film, one still in theaters now: “Jurassic World: Dominion.”
That’s right. In its last season, “Stranger Things” is letting the dinos out.
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We don’t know much about the next and allegedly final installment of the adventures of the Hawkins kids. The show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, announced the formation of a production company devoted so far to “Stranger Things” spinoffs, a manga adaption and an adaption of the Stephen King and Peter Straub book “Talisman,” which Lucas reads to Max in her hospital room. I feel like Max would be more of a Robin McKinley fan, but OK.
Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler, Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers, Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler, Noah Schnapp as Will Byers, David Harbor as Jim Hopper, Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers, and Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in “Stranger Things” (Courtesy of Netflix)We do know that the Upside Down is headed our way in a major way. For the previous seasons of the show, the government and Eleven (mostly Eleven) have been able to keep the Upside Down in check. There are cracks, creepy passageways from our world into this other kind of world, but only cracks, like chinks in the armor of reality.
That all changes in season 4 when it’s revealed that once-human monster Vecna has established multiple gates between the Upside Down and our world. The gates are opened by child sacrifices. He’s happy to oblige.
Nature finds a way. So does the Upside Down.
What does this have in common with big screen dinos? For years and multiple movies, the intrepid heroes of “Jurassic” have done their best to contain the dinosaurs, brought back from extinction as a profitable science experiment. Eccentric billionaire gonna eccentric billionaire.
But by 2018’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” the precursor to “Dominion,” it was clear humans had lost that war. A Mosasaurus gets ready to snack on surfers. The T-Rex breaks into a zoo. The dinosaurs are out, and the zookeepers have lost all control, after a well-meaning child lets the captive and poached creatures go, rather than watch them die.
Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and a Parasaurolophus in “Jurassic World: Dominion” (Universal Pictures / Amblin Entertainment)Nature finds a way. So does the Upside Down. As Vecna’s final gate opens, all we have seen so far of the sticky, other dimension is pieces – but we know more is coming. Thunder rumbles. The main theme song rolls. The clouds darken, and fluffy dust, that distinctive Upside Down hallmark, begins to drift through the real-life sky.
We’re not in Indiana anymore. Or, we are, but things are going to be different in Season 5. It’s a welcome change and a smart one. Finally, the battle has come to the people.
David Harbor as Jim Hopper in “Stranger Things” (Courtesy of Netflix)
Great things can happen when the monsters get loose. Witness “Gremlins 2.”
My family and I looked forward to “Jurassic World: Dominion,” the long-awaited, long-delayed film, like a vacation. We saw it in a preview screening before opening day. The potential was so high, I thought: the juxtaposition of ancient, hungry creatures and our confusing, industrialized and increasingly awful world.
The scenes where “Dominion” took advantage of this clash were its best scenes. A tasty man on a scooter was dispatched by a carnivore! (The audience cheered.) Brontosauruses were relocated by sympathetic loggers! But these scenes were few and far between, as the film chose to mostly wallow in nostalgia.
Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) and Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise) in “Jurassic World: Dominion” (Universal Pictures / Amblin Entertainment)That’s an issue that has been a problem of “Stranger Things” as well, dwelling too much in its love of the past rather than making its own myths. And as every season has paid homage in some way to classic films of the ’80s, from “The Thing” to “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” I wonder if the final season will choose a movie like “Red Dawn” where the Wolverines defend their town, or another childhood favorite: 1980’s “The Fog,” which saw a seaside village attacked by deadly clouds containing pirate ghosts.
Nothing brings a town together like an extensional threat (or, will tear it apart, as in Stephen King’s “The Mist”). But great things can happen when the monsters get loose. Witness “Gremlins 2.”
Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven, Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler and Noah Schnapp as Will Byers in “Stranger Things” (Courtesy of Netflix)“Stranger Things” is posed to go deeper than “Dominion” did. Where else can it go? (Besides a time-jump to the ’90s.) And when demodogs start rooting through trash cans and hive mind vines creep up the side of the high school, someone beyond our heroes is going to have to say something, right? The disbelieving, disinterested adults are going to have to accept it. They’re going to have to start paying attention and to fight back (I nominate long-suffering, unfulfilled Mrs. Wheeler as the first skeptical adult to join the revolution).
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“Stranger Things” has always been the kids vs. adults, the darkest metaphor for childhood as children fight their demons alone and disbelieved. But Joyce believes first. Then Hopper. The kids get an older champion on their side in the stalwart Steve Harrington. Eddie dies for them. Several adults would now, including Murray. “I want to believe,” is the stubborn saying of that kid in a grownup FBI agent’s body, Fox Mulder.
But adults like Alan Grant, whose eyes fill with tears as he reverts to back to a wide-eyed child seeing a real dinosaur for the first time, don’t have to want to believe. They just do. And in the last season of “Stranger Things,” so might everyone else.
When the Upside Down comes to town, as Ian Malcolm says about the dinosaurs: “We’re going to have to adjust to new threats that we can’t imagine. We’ve entered a new era.”
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