The Goonies, Gremlins and ET were the filmic fodder of seventies and eighties babies with their scares and sentimentalism, and until you watch Super 8, you won’t realise how deprived you’ve been of all that good American comfort food.
It’s no coincidence that the fuzzy feeling you felt watching such films as a kid will come flooding back with the new JJ Abrams flick. Super 8 shares the Spielberg influence, both through the impact he had on a young JJ and the fact that he’s the movie’s producer. Abrams, the maker of Lost, is a self-avowed fan of Spielberg and approached him to make a feature about Super 8 films, a format both are feverish fans of. Boring and geeky though this could have been, Super 8 manages to lend heart and soul to a celebration of cameras and reels by basing it around six oddball, original kids in 1970s Ohio.
A bunch of five boys are making a film for a competition and sign up cooler-than-them Alice (Elle Fanning) to play the dame. After sneaking out of sash windows late at night to film a scene by an old train station, the gang witness a huge crash, apocalyptic and extra intense which signals the film’s departure from normality and descent into the supernatural. The group have witnessed their teacher, an ex-military scientist, stop a top-secret train in its tracks in an attempt to free some steely, supernatural Rubik’s cubes (one of which lead character Joe can’t resist pocketing and which later comes alive like a sci-fi Gremlin on his desk). As the US army appears on the scene, the young filmmakers flee, oblivious to the evidence of an alien form they’ve logged on their camera.
Chubby, bossy Charles, desperate to win the film competition and keen to add “production value” to his zombie-flick, decides the train wreck and the menacing army presence in the town will provide the perfect backdrop, so the kids focus on the film and try to forget what they saw. But as people go missing, dogs run for the hills, engines disappear from cars and microwave ovens go AWOL, the whole town panics, fearing the Soviets are behind it all. Jack, Deputy Sheriff and Joe’s dad, isn’t so sure though, and pursues the thoroughly suspicious army, getting himself in deep water along the way.
Comfy suburbs heavy on the brown, walkmans with big foam earphones, misfit friends and good-dumb lines like, “You cannot flake out on me and be a dick”, make you want to live that American childhood you craved as a kid, even if a violent (but secretly decent) monster is tearing your town apart. Homage to olden day Amblin films this may be, but it’s got verve and vitality and is a welcome return of a familiar friend. The schmaltzy end may be too neat and keen to drum up awe for an adult audience, but hold on through the credits, as the kids’ entry to the Super 8 competition plays out, replacing that sickly last taste with humour and character and poking fun at the main film itself.
Super 8 is released today.