Love letters don’t always make for good reading, so I apologize in advance for this post being a love letter to the new movie Super 8, which in turn was a love letter to all those Spielberg movies I grew up with in the eighties. Super 8 takes a little bit from Jaws, some elements from The Goonies, and a whole lot from ET, but honestly I think it improved upon them all.
Sure, if I was a crank I could mention this sci-fi adventure drama might not have an original bone in its body. It was crafted formulaically with every beat in every scene corresponding exactly where the textbooks say those moments should happen. The conflict is introduced by the end of the first act and in the third act the stakes rise considerably. So while it’s true every scene was possibly derived from a predecessor, the combination is still what some hack critic who wants his name on the movie’s advertisements would call movie magic. And one day Super 8’s script will probably be the one cited in the textbooks.
I hesitate to describe the plot as I think one of the reasons I loved it so much was that none of the previews spoiled what would happen, so I will share only the skeleton of the story. It is about a bunch of fourteen year old kids living in Suburbia in the 1970s. With the constraints of their time period (no VCRs, no Nintendo, no internet porn), the kids are bored enough to be creative and film their own movie on a Super 8 camera when something crazy happens.
In a brilliant twist the movie is littered with unknown actors. This makes the ridiculous situations they are faced with seem plausible. Aliens never seem real when chasing a familiar face. Tom Cruise and Will Smith are not allowed to die, but the fat, bossy kid you’ve never seen before just might not survive that explosion
The movie takes its time unfolding in a way that makes it obvious that writer/director JJ Abrams not only learned a lot from Spielberg’s movies, but also from his own television show Lost. Those lessons include that monsters are much scarier when you can not see them, exposition is always interesting when presented on old stock film reels, and most importantly nothing involves an audience like threatening characters they care about. Fortunately, Super 8 improves on Lost’s sole mistake by giving us a satisfying ending.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes me so crazy about this movie, but I think it’s the love the movie wears on its sleeve that does it. Love for the genre, love for the process of making movies, and a love for the innocence of childhood. If Michael Jackson was still alive this would be his new favorite movie and the kid stars would all be invited to the Neverland Ranch.