In this post, words may fail me. I may not be able to adequately express the classic film magic that happens in JJ Abrams Super 8. But I promise I will do my best.
My extreme love of movies stems back to my mom, and her love of movies stems back to her childhood–specifically, I would bet, two movies of her childhood. There was Star Wars when she was 12 and E.T. when she was 17. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg changed the movie game forever, and yet, sometimes it is easy to look around at what we show in theaters today (as we are under a deluge of 3D) and think that maybe they only changed it for an instant. It wasn’t just the revolutionary special effects that made their movies great (or else I would be able to say Avatar was truly great). It was the heart, the innocence, the grip that pulled us in and suspended us in the midst of glorious filmmaking. Super 8 has returned that grip to us.
JJ Abrams of Lost was borne of Spielberg’s era. He has been the student of Speilberg (who served as a producer of Super 8), and when trailers of this film first surfaced, it became clear that Super 8 was Abrams’ homage to his teacher. Kids discover aliens in the 1970s–the premise is so similar that it ceases to become a rip-off and instead becomes a tribute. Joe even looks like Elliott.
Of course there are differences–Joe isn’t trying to save the alien, he’s trying to save his adolescent love Alice, played by a spectacular Elle Fanning. I said good things about her in my review of Somewhere, and she was equally wonderful if not more so in this film. But what was so incredible about her was that she played a character so different from Somewhere’s Cleo that she proves herself at the tender age of 13 to be a true actress. She pulls up in her father’s car, and glares at the boys with a presence most fully grown actors do not have–I couldn’t help but gawk at her.
Some things are over the top, sure. There’s so much drama between Alice and Joe’s father, sadness over Joe’s dead mother, tears from both children–and I wish someone would have realized that the tugging of the heartstrings didn’t have to be quite so hard. The real moments of magic in Super 8 are those between Alice and Joe and then in the group of six friends. Their dialogue hops over one another with perfect young realism and is infused with true humor.
And so, as I sat there with tingles running down my back, it dawned on me that the true magic of these movies is the relational authenticity the filmmakers capture. Sure, there is something spellbindingly reminiscent when Joe looks into the eyes of the alien. I half expected him to reach out a finger. But honestly, when a movie can close on a boy reaching for a girl’s hand and make it more electric than any sex scene or passionate kiss, you know you have a movie that is one of the great.
Perhaps in 40 years someone will be blogging, “We haven’t seen a movie like this since Super 8.”