While today’s youth is chomping away their blockbusters like popcorn, generations before that got to see films that would leave them in so much awe they forgot they even had popcorn.
How will we remember Thor in a year? In thirty years? Steven Spielberg, undisputed king and founder of the summer blockbuster, inspired many teenagers with Jaws, Close Encounters, Indiana Jones or E.T.. It’s a pity that this same Spielberg is also producing summer nonsense nowadays, even though he still backs up the good ole’ stuff, like Super 8. J.J. Abrams was one of those teens awed by the Spielberg of yesteryear. His Super 8 is not an homage to the old sci-fi adventure movies and neither is it a parody. Super 8 is a revival.
Four friends – one fat kid with a big mouth, a nerd with big glasses, a brat with big braces and a normal kid – have a close encounter with an alien. Abrams knows, together with his idol as producer, how to put a real deal of authenticity in this film. Not many directors can present their child actors as actual children on the screen. Even Spielberg failed horribly, not too long ago, with Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds. As if a 38 year old woman was trapped in a kid’s body but still tried to act like a kid. I kept feeling sorry for the 38 year old woman even though I knew she wasn’t there. How different is her little sister Elle Fanning? In Super 8 she plays one half of puppy love as she joins up with the four friends to experience a childhood defining summer.
In a small industrial town these kids try to make their own zombie movie (type: Romero). They are shooting, like so many starting directors back then, with their super 8 camera. Without simple sentiments Abrams succeeds in bringing nostalgic feelings to life through his young cast. Sure, the kids are caricatures, but very recognizable too, not only from films like E.T., The Goonies or Stand By Me, but also from our own youth. The timelessness of being a kid with our parents as our only restriction in life, seamlessly endless summers of playing with friends, a first romance: it are these moments that are captured very well. Abrams shows he knows his eighties blockbuster. Spielberg shows he still knows his roots. Let us hope he still knows them while making Tin Tin.
Let us also hope that today’s youth can appreciate this kind of filmmaking. Teenagers that already got pounded into mindlessness by film trash from the likes of Bay probably have a hard time getting amused by this genuine stuff. This film is about that boyhood adventure from many summers ago. Loads of kids that see Super 8 today might still be living that adventure without even knowing it for themselves. The adventure of the kids in Super 8 comes by itself when a train crashes on their filmset. (This scene is very spectacular, it’s a reason to see a movie in the cinema, not on a TV-set or even on a computer.) An alien escapes. The quiet industrial town transforms into a battlefield for the alien, but also for the American army that hunts it.
Of course the kids fall right into the middle of all this. But sadly here lies my main critique. Abrams has focused on his atmosphere and authenticity so much that he forgets he is making an adventure movie. The old Spielberg films revolve around adventure. Raiders of the Lost Ark, but also The Goonies or E.T. were and still are cinema of attractions. They give meaning to the phrase ‘experiencing a movie’. Super 8 doesn’t really revolve around a lot of story. The characters have their own backgrounds, but the alien is more like a plot catalyst than a plot motivation. Its part in this movie is almost redundant, while it should be one of the main attractions. The four (five) friends move through their town actually doing not much except for just having one very weird but awesome summer holiday. We don’t get to experience Super 8, simply because there is not much to experience. But, admittedly, the child play is wonderful.