My love affair with cinema can be readily traced back to the films that enchanted me as a child, and with the exception of of Richard Donner’s Superman, Ron Howard’s Willow, and George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, the films that captured my boyhood imagination were all directed (like Raiders of the Lost Ark) or produced (like Back to the Future) by Steven Spielberg. His films created a whole generation of movie-geeks whose passion for the art form has never subsided.
Talented filmmaker J.J. Abrams is clearly among them; in Super 8 Abrams crafts a fantasy-thriller that is an open love letter to the films of his youth. Steven Spielberg produced this extraterrestrial adventure, which captures the spirit of his 70’s and 80’s classics while giving Abrams room to put his own definitive stamp on the story and style. Super 8 mixes the wonder of E.T. and Close Encounters with the dread of Jaws, the dark humor of Gremlins, and the youthful cameraderie of The Goonies.That the film is set during the same era as those films, with the same fashions, ten-speed bicycles, and small-town Americana certainly drives home the nostalgia.
However, this is Abrams’ film, and though he tips his hat to the man who inspired him, he also brings his own sensibilities to the table. On his television programs Lost and Alias, as well as his feature films (the new Star Trek and the under-appreciated Mission Impossible III) Abrams deftly balanced spectacle and mystery with emotion and small character beats that make all of the difference. He continues to do so here. He also gets wonderful performances from his actors, including Kyle Chandler from TV’s Friday Night Lights. The kids in this film are terrific; most of them are newcomers, yet they display rich emotion and natural humor. I love the way they talk over each other, constantly competing for attention. The dialogue is frequently fast and hilarious, though some may be dismayed about the amount of profanity spoken by young characters (again, like in 80’s films). Though it serves a purpose (these are just kids who want to be adults, so they use what they think are grown-up words; it’s telling that the two most mature kids never swear), it does get tedious.
If the film has an artistic flaw, it’s that the extraterrestial story (which borrows some elements from Cloverfield, which Abrams produced) is fairly standard. However, like Signs, this film is actually a character drama masquerading as an alien thriller, and as such it shines. It is truly touching, it’s funny, it’s thrilling, it has characters one cares about, and it’s dramatically satisfying. On a personal level, it brought back fond memories of how much fun it is to make movies with one’s friends. I agree with another reviewer, who said that while Super 8 never reaches the heights of the classic films that it emulates, it is still better than 90% of modern summer movies and a great trip down memory lane.
CONTENT OVERVIEW:Super 8 is rated PG-13. It has plenty of jumps, a few scary moments, and some moderately bloody creature violence. There is fairly consistent and varied profanity by young teenagers and one f-word by a young adult. An older teenage girl wears short shorts and shows her midriff, though her mother chastens her for this. A young adult smokes pot, but it is explicitly portrayed as a “bad” and damaging thing.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Forgive one another. Life continues after tragedy, with comfort found in loved ones and close friendships.
For another “kids-on-an-adventure” flick, check out the Disney classic The Gnome Mobile.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.