”Our show is an anthem for the marginalized and imperfect”
Text: Gina McIntyre
Foreword: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
What They Say
Stranger things have happened. . . .
When the first season of Stranger Things debuted on Netflix in the summer of 2016, the show struck a nerve with millions of viewers worldwide and received broad critical acclaim. The series has gone on to win six Emmy Awards, but its success was driven more than anything by word of mouth, resonating across generations. Viewers feel personal connections to the characters. Now fans can immerse themselves in the world—or worlds—of Hawkins, Indiana, like never before.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Stranger Things is one of those series that took pop culture by surprise in that not only was it a highly competent love letter to ‘80s cinema, but it also existed as a solid series in its own right. We’ve had quite the dry spell in terms of a pop culture hit that appealed to any and all audiences (not based on a superhero, anyway), so when this series hit, it hit hard enough to warrant the whole spiel in terms of merch—this official behind-the-scenes companion guide included.
When Stranger Things originally made its way from the Netflix streaming service to physical copies on DVD, Blu-Ray, and even 4k, I was highly disappointed by how bare bones the release was. You’d think that with a series that essentially kickstarted this newfound love for the ‘80s aesthetic, there would be at least something in the form of on-disc extras breaking down some of that movie (er… “long-form streaming show?”) magic. So when this book was released, it definitely made up for those discs’ lackluster releases.
Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down begins not at the beginning, but a few clicks earlier than that, chronicling not only the Duffer brother’s personal background, but the few steps and chance encounters that eventually led to the original pilot for the series. Paired with the brothers’ own commentary on that early process, you can tell both Matt and Ross Duffer have an earnest vibe about themselves that only benefits their work. Pages where the brothers enthusiastically list their favorite inspirations, from books to movies, to even a certain early-era PlayStation videogame may come off as obvious especially for those that lived through the era, but are nonetheless filled with such excitement that it’s no wonder the series did as well as it did. From the get-go, it’s clear the Duffers are just as much fans as they are creatives willing to create something that exceeds simple emulation.
And that feeling only continues throughout the book as we’re given breakdowns of key scenes and aspects of the series in (more or less) chronological story order. Character intro pages are lovingly stylized to fit each cast member: the main kids have their own handwritten D&D character sheets while the teens’ pages emulate yearbook entries. Likewise, breakdowns covering the painstaking effort it took to recreate things like family living rooms, cabins, and even malls only further underline the sheer amount of work it took to create such convincingly retro set pieces. Tiny details like a Ritz tin container in Mike’s basement go above and beyond to make sure setting is just as big of a character in the series as the people themselves.
Additional entries to the book include behind-the-scenes photos, art breaking down the iconic Demogorgon costume, and even the process behind creating each of the kid’s bikes. Information is dense yet inviting, worded in such a way that you could flip to any page and still get enough context to read whatever caught your eye. Pages delve into heavy detail on basically any and all aspects of the show, making sure to always touch on something in more detail than you’d be able to find on something like a fanpage wiki alone.
What’s especially interesting is just how transparent certain write-ups can get. With how much the series was able to get traction off word-of-mouth alone, it’s clear that the show-runners have garnered enough of an appreciation for their fanbase that they’re willing to even include some occasional criticisms from them as well. In particular, it was a bit jarring to see the book itself admit that season 2’s bottle episode involving character Eleven going off on an ‘80s punk adventure resulted in some mixed opinions from fans. It’s this level of honesty with their own work that’s appreciated, and makes this book more than a long-winded pat on the back.
Even the literal book itself is lovingly crafted to come off like a weathered book from the ‘80s. Its hastily wrapped plastic cover meant to better support the intentionally-tattered paper wrap and paired with a “Condition: Fair” sticker is so convincingly real. Added little easter eggs like the reversible cover, attached in-world map, and a replica Morse Code disc only further adds to the reading experience.
Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down has just as much love and reverence for ‘80s pop culture as the show it covers. The sheer amount of nitty-gritty detail for various aspects of the show is well worth its price.
Content Grade: A
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: Everyone
Released By: Melcher Media
Release Date: October 30, 2018