I’ve read so much serious scifi recently, that I’d almost forgotten that there is a long history of fun scifi. This type of scifi doesn’t have to have a deep plot, doesn’t really have to make much sense, and doesn’t require intense themes and a serious tone. Truthfully, fun scifi is probably more widely known than serious scifi, in the way that ET is more famous than Blade Runner, and Stranger Things is probably the most famous scifi show right now.
I should begin by saying that this type of scifi is not easier to write than the serious type. The characters are just as important, the plot needs to be interesting and whatever people might suggest, expressing fun in writing or direction is as much a style as any of Joyce’s. The characters should be interesting and humorous in their own way, the words used must convey both the sense of adventure and enough tension to stop the story feeling silly. If the story becomes too fun, if the characters become too funny, then we can lose tension and not care, for instance, about whether ET escapes at the end of the movie.
This brings me to something I noticed during the ending of Stranger Things. The show’s premise is objectively ridiculous. A bunch of children band together and fight against Government and alien forces, travel to alternative dimensions and infiltrate secretive Russian bases. None of this is possible, not really. It only makes sense sense in the context which the show establishes, that of 80s kid’s adventure movies and shows. The show manages to balance drama and fun, having moments of genuine threat for the characters and ‘rest’ moments, where something silly happens. The prime example is the never-ending story song, situated in the middle of the final episode, and minutes before two characters die. Some viewers think this was too much ‘fun’ and detracts from the emotional power of the final scenes, but I disagree.
The writers of Stranger Things understand the type of show they are making. They know that this is an adult film about children, which older children can potentially watch, so the show must contain a lot of child-like elements. Interrupting a crisis to sing a song, is the exactly the type of decision a child would make. Does it make sense, from a realistic perspective? No, but the show doesn’t. It does make sense in the context of a children’s adventure movie, and provides the perfect moment of fun, before the dramatic and consequential finale can begin.
The show has reminded me that I haven’t read enough of this type of scifi. I’m going to seek some.