Every once in a while, it is nice to have a comforting action movie. Aliens have been delivered hot, scary, and funny in the past but in J.J. Abram’s “Super 8” we get a square meal with an extra helping of nostalgia. (I assume for older folks, I saw E.T. and Close Encounters about the same time as Star Wars and Men in Black, so…) The point is, that J.J. wanted to give us the year 1979 not as it actually was, but as “how we remembered” it.
“Super 8” is the story of Joe (Joel Courtney), a precocious kid who also happens to be doing the zombie-make-up on his friend’s movie. As the whole gang and the cute blonde Alice (Elle Fanning) head out to the train yard to film a crucial scene… DISASTER STRIKES. Epic awesome fire balling disaster– J.J. wanted it to be a kids’ version of an accident rather than a reality. (He feels that we no longer react to spectacle in the same way that people did back in the ‘70s.) It’s funny really, you almost can’t have a quiet suburban town and troubled family dynamics in a movie without some terrible supernatural force descending upon everyone. And stealing their toasters no less. The film follows Joe and Alice, whose fathers hate each other, and the mysterious rustling shadows in the forest.
A lot of people have already commented on the ‘peculiar’ marketing campaign of not showing the alien. J.J. explains it clearly himself: the alien is a metaphor for confronting your fears, so why not with-hold the alien until the protagonist and audience themselves is ready to stand up to it? Works for me! Reminds me of the freaky alien leg from “Signs.” Fear of the unknown is a great concept, and it makes the reveal that much better. Emotional spoiler alert / cool technological tidbit: the eyes of the mother character were scanned and duplicated for the alien’s eye design, cementing the connection between the two.
When J.J. was just a wee 6th-grader, he had a school project to paint something meaningful on a piece of wood and give it to his parents. Some children painted flowers, others painted their families, but J.J. painted the “Jaws” poster. “Anything is possible” is the message J.J. learned from Spielberg’s films, and he has taken it to heart. J.J. is a much more emotional man than I expected from someone who created something as complex as Lost, Alias, and Fringe. In “Super 8” he references the Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance” and he tells us and shows us that he still can’t relate the plot summary without a tear in his eye. Such an intense longing for an idealized past is apparent in this movie, and somehow I’m not really affected by it (youth is wasted on the young). However I will say I do regard this film as a warm fuzzy hug. Joel Courtney was apparently a fresh young actor with a stony face before filming, Riley Griffiths gained 15 lbs for the role out of excitement, and Ryan Lee was cast almost solely on his giant teeth. How can you not love these kids?