SUPER 8 (2011)
I missed something the first go around. Super 8 isn’t a monster movie. No. It’s a film about teens in 1979 making a monster movie. Like Breaking Away, Stand By Me, Almost Famous, American Graffiti and Yasujira Ozu’s Good Morning, it’s a film about growing up. It’s one of the best films ever made about growing up. I was initially irritated about the creature and CGI effects. I’ve seen a lot of monster films and I’ve seen tentacles, claws, scales, blobs, thorns, antennae, mandibles, bi-peds, burrowers, sea monsters —well I’ve seen them all and rarely do I see something original. I’m still not impressed by Neville Page’s design (I won’t reveal the creature, but if you look close there’s a bit of ET in there and later down the road I’ll prove it).
I was born in 1965 and grew up in the Midwest. I was the wise age of 14 in 1979, which puts me smack dab in the historical setting of this movie. I was a monster kid. The detail in this film is extraordinary down to the afghan cover on a couch, the wallpaper, furniture, music, movie posters, model tie-fighter hanging in a bedroom, and Aurora model kits. I even had the Dick Miller make-up book referred to in the film. I had a friend like Cary, who liked to blow up things, and I knew a kid who vomited all the time. The characters were real to me and the film brought back memories. My dad had a Bell & Howell Super 8 film camera. It had a zoom lens. I can’t find it anywhere, but I had it in college in the 1980’s. I still have films from that era. I even attempted to make a zombie film.
I miss those days. Super 8 is a marvelous film and manages to capture in a snap-shot a time long lost. That’s why I go to films. In Super 8, there are touches of early Spielberg at his best —Jaws, CE3K and E.T. The frantic and disorganized scenes with the cops seemed straight out of the Amity police department, and the little Kaznyk twins in pj’s beating each other with whiffle ball bats is reminiscent of the Neary household in Close Encounters. Super 8 also pays tribute to countless sci-fi films from the 1950’s. The Thing from Another World, THEM! and so many others. Did you notice the Gill-Man model? The electrical lineman on the cherry picker reminded me of scenes from THEM! and The Black Scorpion.
Spielberg has always been good directing kids and J.J. Abrams understands hip settings. The film works —the story is terrific, the teens are likable and the relationships compelling. I bought into the movie immediately. But Super 8 isn’t a monster film. It reminds me of a film Joe Dante would make, but it’s not a creature film. It’s about growing up in the 1970’s. At times, the film’s lead (Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb) reminded me a bit of character William Miller, played low-key by Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous. Both characters look similar and grow up in the 70’s in the middle-class midwest with single and alienated parents. Both kids are optimists yearning for escape. William Miller wants to be a rock star —or at least write about rockstars, and Joe Lamb a special effects artist.
Take a moment and take your family to see Super 8. Oh, there’s some profanity and violence. They’re only kids once.