I like to imagine there is a time in all professional filmmakers lives when a love for film trumps a paycheck. When that love was their only motivation. When they ran around with their friends creating and capturing scenes in any way they could before Summer ran out. It is the kind of breathless time that Ray Bradbury often wrote about and the kind Steven Spielberg’s early films evoked.
Super 8 is a movie that reminds me both of Spielberg and Bradbury. It evokes Spielberg’s wonder years specifically Goonies and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It also captures the kind of breathlessness kids have when while working on a creative project that has to be completed now.
Director J.J. Abrams owes a lot to both.
I don’t know if J.J. Abrams ever read Ray Bradbury but Spielberg sure did. Spielberg once said of Bradbury, “”He was my muse for the better part of my sci-fi career.” You can see that influence in Spielberg’s early films and it is no coincidence you see it in Super 8; Spielberg is after all producing.
Strange Goings in the Night
The film centers around a group of kids in the late ‘70’s trying to make a short film to enter into a competition. They make models, sneak out at night, borrow equipment and sometimes cars to complete the film. To them it is serious business. The fact that for the first time ever they need an actress…well that too is serious business.
The kids can be described in some ways by their role in the short film they are trying to create. They are: Joel Courtney (Make-up), Riley Griffiths (Director), Ryan Lee (Explosive Expert and occasional zombie), Gabriel Basso (Detective), Zach Mills (Guy on Phone), and Elle Fanning (the Wife).
Their group dynamic is completely believable and the young actors all shine in their roles. By giving them lots of space J.J. Abrams captures the magic of the groups creativity and what happens when they get in over their heads.
The Mystery Box
Inevitably all that running around leads them to being at just the right place at the right time when they find themselves witnesses to a spectacular train wreck. A scene so well put together that we rewound it three times just to soak it all in.
In his TED talk, J.J. Abrams talks about his love for the unseen mystery. He does a good job of letting the audience unwrap the mystery along as the kids figure it out. Strange things like car engine disappear, dogs run away, and the military shows up. All the while Abrams doesn’t reveal his hand until the 3rd act which adds to the fun.
Some Assembly Required
As with any sleight of hand things fall apart if you look too closely. There are plenty of logic leaps that don’t make sense, adult characters who seem to solely serve the mechanism of the plot, and certain science fiction choices that belong more to comics and less to science.
This is the kind of film that you either allow yourself to be caught up or you don’t. While it plays heavily on Spielberg nostalgia it stands very well on its own. Bradbury often said that even his youngest fans would come up to him and poke holes in the science in his stories. It didn’t make his fans love them any less, because while he may have missed the science he captured the heart.
Super 8 does just that. Plus any film that gives the explosive expert a chance to demonstrate his craft gets my vote. Stay for the end credits if you want to know just what dastardly deeds Romero Corporation has been up to.