You really can’t go wrong with a movie that features a bunch of dorky, misfit kids. The age of the audience doesn’t matter because geekiness transcends maturity, and everyone remembers lunch room snubs and ill-advised haircuts. Even kids who were popular seethed with insecurity and angst – they just hid it better than the rest of us. Then throw in a mysterious alien and a power-hungry government official and you have a proven formula that has been the template for such classics as E.T., The Goonies and Stand By Me. Some people might argue that The Goonies was a weird little film that doesn’t belong on that list, but only a heartless bastard would root against little Sean Astin – he needs to survive so that he can grow up to be Sam Gamgee.
Add to that list Super 8, a new film produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by J.J. Abrams, the creator of Lost, Alias and the latest Star Trek revival. Abrams doesn’t hide his admiration for Spielberg and the film practically bows down in homage to E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The classic dead parent gimmick is introduced immediately and we get a snapshot of small town life and the people who live there; the lonely boy, the grieving father, the wacky friends who can’t stop talking about zombie films even at a funeral. But the movie veers out of SpielbergLand when the group of teenagers sneak out to film their movie and end up witnessing a train wreck of such nuclear proportions it’s a wonder the whole town isn’t vaporized. The smoking ruins are soon surrounded by the government, hoping to keep a lid on whatever it was that escaped from the mangled steel cars. The rest of the film is a race as the kids try to discover the secret of the mysterious creature and to keep the government from destroying their town, all while filming their original zombie masterpiece.
Set in 1980, the film references events that hint at the future; Walter Cronkite reports on Three Mile Island, and a gas station attendant rocks out to Blondie on his brand new Sony Walkman. The Walkman revolutionized how we thought about personal music devices and led the way to iPods, camera phones and the explosion of YouTube, which is exactly where the Super 8 zombie film the kids are making would have ended up had they had the technology. We may have better toys now than we had 30 years ago, but the creative intent was the same. There is a nice scene where the young director realizes he has to wait three days to get his film developed. My, we were young and innocent then, weren’t we?
The film is heartwarming, fun and just a little scary, with the escaped monster looming large in the last third. I’m always disappointed when they actually show the alien in films like this; what’s in my head is always way scarier than what’s on the screen. The kids are so good that their interaction is much more enjoyable than the whole convoluted sequence of events that leads to the final confrontation, but it does allow Kyle Chandler to be the Movie Star that we Friday Night Lights fans always knew he could be. Oh, Coach Taylor, it’s so good to see you and your fabulous hair on the big screen.
This film felt like summer to me in a way that some of the other blockbusters have not. CGI car crashes and exploding robots may be the trend, but a movie that involves you in the lives of a group of young people and makes you care about them will stay with you long after the last Transformer has blown up. One note of caution: once you hear the opening drum beat that is the epicness of My Sharona on the soundtrack, you will not be able to get this song out of your head for days. It’s 1979 all over again!
Note: Be sure to stick around for the credits; they show the finished zombie movie as the names roll by.
Barf Bag rating: Zero Bags I had apprehensions about this one going in, for Mr. Abrams was the clown who gave us Cloverfield, but no problems came up (or out). The trailer for Transformers III had me woozy in seconds, though, so look for that one to score some bags.
One thought on “Super 8”
Abrams can’t resist an allusion to “District 9” here, either. He likes his monsters complicated, with an emotional quotient. I liked the Spielberg connection and the passing of the torch, cinematically.