Stranger Things: Season 1 (Target Exclusive VHS Packaging)
- Street Date:
- October 17th, 2017
- Reviewed by:
- Matthew Hartman
- Review Date: 1
- October 19th, 2017
- Movie Release Year:
- 397 Minutes
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
"Friends don't lie."
A Cultural phenomenon is a tough sell for me. When everyone is talking about a show or a movie, my gut response is to run in the opposite direction. Part of it has to do with not wanting my opinions of a work colored by outsiders, but it's also to do with the incessant water cooler chit-chat that inevitably leads to massive spoilers. From Breaking Bad to Game of Thrones, I've purposely kept my distance so I can enjoy things on my own terms. When people started chattering about Netflix's ode to 80s horror movies, Stranger Things, I put my guard up preparing to wait months to start in on it. Interestingly enough, outside of how great it was or comparisons to various movies I heard nothing! That got me interested. From the get-go, the Duffer Brother's Stranger Things won me over. It isn't perfect, but it's damn entertaining and thankfully holds up to repeat viewings.
In the sleepy Indiana town of Hawkins, life is normal. Parents go to work. Kids go to school. Until one night a child goes missing. After playing a long round of D&D with his pals Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) goes missing. His mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and his older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) can't find him. Even the town's chief of police Hopper (David Harbour) is at a loss, as the clues they do have fail to add up. When Mike, Lucas, and Dustin discover a mysterious girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) in the rain only wearing a t-shirt, the mystery only thickens. As Eleven may prove to hold the clue to Will's disappearance, a shadowy government agency lead by Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) arrives on the scene.
As I'm a person who is reluctant to provide any spoiler material lest someone reading hasn't seen it, I'm actually having a tough time talking about Stranger Things. There is a lot packed into this show from numerous movie references like The Thing and The Evil Dead to bits and pieces carved from Stephen King books, there is a lot of 80s nostalgia at work here. If the Duffer Brothers had slipped up in the slightest, if all of the cultural references hadn't worked, the show would have been just a flimsy piece of nostalgic kitsch that would have been quickly forgotten. Thankfully, Stranger Things works.
If there is an easy comparison to make, one could draw a pretty solid line right to J.J. Abrams' ode to Steven Spielberg 80s movies, Super 8. There are a number of similarities between these two works with a cast of young child actors in the leads to shadowy government agencies to a creature that likes to keep to the dark. While I do love Super 8, even I would admit that it goes too hard to ape the Spielberg "Wonder Gaze" and cast the film unrealistically in the late 70s early 80s. Stranger Things seems to handle things more naturally. Perhaps because of the extended runtime with 8 episodes to work with, this show doesn't make it a point to constantly remind people of the era it takes place in. The world feels more natural to the point that when you see an army of school kids hauling Trapper Keepers you don't really question it.
Add to that you have an engaging story with plenty of mystery surrounding it. With their best friend missing, it's up to a group of kids and their new gal pal with psychic powers to rescue him. If this dynamic doesn't toss you back into thinking about The Goonies or its numerous clones I don't know what will. Episode by episode, another piece of the puzzle falls into place. You get to know more about the shadowy agency, Eleven, the demon monster from the Upside down world, and you also get to know more about the cast of characters and what makes them tick.
To that end, I have to shout out the great cast and their work on this show. While Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, and Gaten Matarazzo are great and they play perfect best friends, they're not the real standouts of the show. For my money, it's Winona Ryder, Millie Bobbie Brown, and David Harbour who make this show great. With each episode, Ryder's Joyce gradually slips towards desperation and her sanity is strained. It's a true comeback performance for Ryder who hasn't done a whole lot since the mid-90s. Then we have Millie Bobbie Brown's Eleven. For a twelve-year-old kid, she's got a hell of a lot of range. She may not say much, but she doesn't have to, her emotions and expressions make up for any dialogue shortfalls. then we have David Harbour's Hopper. When we first meet him we see a broken jaded man who really doesn't have much of a reason to get up in the morning and pin on his badge and do his job. With each episode we get to know more about him, why he is the way he is, and why this case of a missing child may be a chance at regaining a piece of himself that was lost long ago.
As much as I did love Stranger Things, I won't go out on the limb and state definitively that it is a perfect show. Like a lot of long-form television stories, it does suffer some middle ground bloat. Episodes Four and Five, in particular, feel as if they could have been trimmed down and combined. Even then it wouldn't be too difficult to cut back a few scenes and sequences and bring the episode count from eight down to six. But that really is only a slight grievance. If the only real criticism I can muster without nitpicking the show to hell and back is that it's a little slow in the middle, that's not really much of a complaint at all. As Season Two looms on the horizon, I'm happy to see that this First Season holds up so well. Even if this is the only good season of this show's run, this first outing feels complete enough that it could be enjoyed again and again without feeling the need for more. If this had been a one and done miniseries event, I would have been perfectly happy. Now with more episodes on the way, we have the potential for even more thrills, chills, and 80s nostalgia.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
UPDATE: Check out our unboxing video!
So how well do you like collector's packaging? Netflix's Stranger Things The Complete First Season arrives in grand style in a four-disc Blu-ray and DVD set currently exclusive to Target stores.
Both BD-50 discs and their DVD counterpart come packed in an oversized VHS-styled case. Where your average VHS Tape measures roughly 7.25 x 4 inches, this case comes in at roughly 8 x 5.25 inches.
Once you take off the vintage VHS sleeve designed to look as if the tape was once a part of a rental library complete with faded price sticker, you get the tape-style box with "be kind rewind" sticker. It's a nice touch - even the Red on White labels are faded and stained.
The case stays closed with a magnetic flap exposing a tray that holds the Blu-ray discs on two rubber spokes with a pocket on the flap that houses the exclusive poster. Lifting the tray up and you find the DVDs on similar rubber spokes. Discs pop on and off with ease and there's virtually no chance of damaging them or the packaging when taking them off. This really is one hell of a beautiful set. Granted, it's not one that will easily fit on shelves, but it looks damn good sitting next to your TV set!
Disc One contains episodes 1-4 and loads to trailers for Netflix's Stranger Things Season Two and The Defenders before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. These trailers can't be skipped or fast forwarded through - you simply have to wait for them to end, which actually makes for a great opportunity to grab a beer and pop some popcorn. Disc Two contains episodes 5-8 and loads directly to an animated main menu.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Stranger Things The Complete First Season arrives with a bold and beautiful 2.00:1 1080p transfer. Yes, that is an odd aspect ratio, but it nicely fits somewhere between what you'd see on a 4:3 television of the 80s and a full 16:9 screen today. Perhaps this was just another attempt to add an amount of nostalgia to the mix? Regardless, it's a pretty great presentation. Shot on the Red Epic Dragon system, details for this show are absolutely fantastic. From the clothing to the cars to the all of the early 80s vintage nostalgia set design, everything is on display. The only time when details suffer is during some effects plates that just don't quite blend with the person or object in the foreground, but those shots are mere seconds for a show that runs nearly seven hours.
Colors are a big feature of the show and this transfer pulls them off perfectly. The heavy navy blues and bright 80s reds have a great amount of pop and presence. Joyce's Christmas light alphabet is particularly impressive looking here with the bright lights playing against the dull browns and deep shadows. This transfer also makes Eggos look really tasty and appealing. Black levels are also spot on allowing for a great amount of shadow separation. Even in the darkest of scenes when shadowy monsters lurk in the background, there is a terrific sense of depth and dimension to the image. Occasionally there is some slight video noise, but again, nothing severe. Free of any banding or serious compression issues, I'd call this Blu-ray transfer a job well done.
Compared to the 4K UHD stream on Netflix, I'd still say this Blu-ray transfer holds up pretty well. While Part 2 will debut with Dolby Vision, this first season's 4K stream did not include HDR, so the Blu-ray's colors, contrast, and black levels are on par. The only notable advantage of the 4K streaming is an obvious increase in details - particularly finer details like individual strands of hair, fabrics, as well as wallpaper prints. Outdoor daylight scenes are where you're going to spot the most notable increase. However, I will say there are a few odd shots here and there where it looked like my LG OLED's TruMotion setting had been reactivated (thankfully it wasn't). These moments were relatively few and far between, but it only seems to appear in the 4K stream and not the 1080p stream or on this Blu-ray release.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Each episode of Stranger Things The Complete First Season comes packed with what is essentially the exact same 5.1 audio mix as can be found on streaming, albeit in the lossless Dolby TrueHD codec versus Netflix's lossy DD+ stream. All around it's a solid audio mix with great dynamic range. Low tones have a particularly strong presence - especially when the Demogorgon utters its guttural noises just before it's about to devour some unsuspecting person. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout without any interference from other mix elements. Sound effects have a nicely layered presence. Busy rooms with a lot of clatter and traffic or even quieter scenes that take place in the woods offer up a lot of atmosphere keeping the surround channels active. Free of any issues, this is a pretty terrific, moody, and atmospheric audio mix.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Sadly, in keeping with most Netflix show releases like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, this first season is devoid of bonus features. Which is a real shame because there's a crazy amount of ground that could be covered with the Duffer Brothers and their inspiration for the show all the way down the line to the great cast. Shame.
As our society endeavors to recapture the glory days of the 80s through vintage video game systems, clothing, and resurrecting dormant movie franchises, Stranger Things The Complete First Season hit at the exact right time. Combining all of the best elements of 80s horror and science fiction films with too many nods and homages to count, this first season is a creepy, emotional, nostalgic delight. I loved the show the first time I binged my way through it a year ago and now watching through on Blu-ray I am happy to see that it still holds up. It may drag in the middle, there's a bit of unfortunate bloat, but otherwise, this is a great show and I'm eager to see how well Season Two measures up. While Netflix's decision to bring the show to home video is an obvious no-brainer, I have to say they couldn't have chosen a more thematically appropriate way possible. The VHS-style packaging is just awesome. It may be too big for a real tape, but who cares - it's stylish and looks cool. Each episode is given a terrific video transfer and a solid audio mix to match. Sadly, much like our favorite VHS tapes of yesteryear, there aren't any bonus features which is a truly unfortunate oversight for this release. Fans of the show and especially those who love kitschy packaging will absolutely want to add this set to the collection. If you're on the fence, consider it highly recommended that you pick up a copy while you can.
- 2-Disc Blu-ray, 2-Disc DVD Set
- Special "VHS Tape" packaging
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
- English Descriptive Audio
- English SDH
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