There seems to be a cry for me to review SUPER 8 through sheer critical analysis. To discuss the many elements separately and with a cold logical mind skewering what ever morsels there are to skew.
That is so not what this movie is for me. To look at this film without nostalgia is to entirely miss the point. As a child of the 70s, as a child of Spielberg, Cronenberg, Carpenter, Dante, Landis, Scott… there was something impossibly cool about the era we grew up in.
Beyond all the geek cool that this film has going for it, the number one thing that speaks to me are the kids here. I just remember how awesome it was as a kid to leave the house on your own at night to hook up with friends and do whatever. I never got caught. Ever. I never had permission – and the adventures I had with my best friend Rylan Bosher are the sorts of things that when we see each other, as we too rarely do, we see ourselves as kids the second we hook up. Floods of stories.
The Pyromaniac kid, Cary (played by Ryan Lee) looks a bit like Rylan did back then, but he acts like my other childhood friend Roland, who runs the business behind AICN. Now – throughout my awesome childhood I never wound up having an adventure like the kids in this film. There was never a Government or Alien threat that I had to personally deal with, but goddammit – I kind of wished there was.. every day of my childhood. I was ready. The government was obviously corrupt – and I absolutely knew there were Aliens. (I didn’t have proof, but when you’re a kid – you don’t need proof to believe in Santa Claus, Han Solo, zombies, Easter Bunny, Aliens and Jesus. You accept this as just fact. I mean, we discussed these things seriously, but how would we handle this if the shit went down? We discussed it.
That’s the marvelous thing about being a kid. You believe in this stuff. I have no problem being a kid, to see the wonder in the world around me, I hold on to it, even as I deal with the harsh realities of the world. My mom dying, paralysis, my father’s stroke, tight financial times… but rather than focus on that kind of thing, instead, I choose to look on the bright side of life, thanks to Monty Python.
In SUPER 8… we meet a young boy on the day he lost his mother to an industrial accident. His father, Kyle Chandler, is the Senior Deputy for the Sheriff’s department in a small 14,000 population town. His dad is a hard worker. Never really there in the home. Joe Lamb, played to perfection by Joel Courtney, is a great kid, but he was raised by his mother, who allowed him to be the geek that he is. He paints Aurora Models, reads Famous Monsters, Starlog and has posters all over his room. Including Robert Crumb’s KEEP ON TRUCKIN’, which kind of informs me about his mother, I would have liked to have met her, she seemed cool as hell, at least to little Joe.
Joe Lamb is the make-up and assistant to his best friend, Charles, played by Riley Griffiths. Riley is a kid on the pudgy side… But instead of being played for comic relief like every other fat kid in the 70’s or 80’s. He’s the DIRECTOR of this group of friends. He’s trying to shoot a SUPER 8 zombie film, to enter into an Amateur Film Contest, and he’s having to compete against teenagers, so he’s really busting everyone’s balls to do their best.
The third member of this team of friends is the aforementioned Pyro, Cary. In many ways, he’s my favorite kid. If you watch him, he’s always completely distracted in his own world. He loves fire. Loves firecrackers. Loves blowing stuff up with custom make M80s. But he’s quieter than MOUTH. On multiple viewings, I think Ryan’s Cary is going to be amazing to watch… actually – I’d say that about every performance here. There’s a lot going on, the kids trample all over what each other is saying, and for those not used to hearing kids – well, let’s just say there’s a treasure of fun to be had when these kids get together and I can’t wait to hear it all – and I absolutely will be seeing this movie 4-5 times this summer.
Now – before I go much further – and delve into some of the things you might not want to know going into SUPER 8, let me just say flat out. I love SUPER 8. Love it. Love it. The film feels like the experience I wished I’d had as a kid. I loved Spielberg, but I was also seeing the R-rated films of the era – and while I loved GOONIES and I really like MONSTER SQUAD, those films were goofier than anything that related to me personally. This feels like a great big scary kids adventure that I have always been waiting on.
JJ’s film isn’t a Spielberg clone, it is its own thing. The disparate influential elements that he’s combined should make instant sense to any kid of my era. Basically imagine if E.T. wasn’t so goddamned cute. What if it wasn’t all John Carpenter take over the world either. What if it was in that middle ground? What if scary shit was going down and as a kid, you had information that you felt you needed to act upon, and you and your friends went out – JAWS style to fucking get the shit that needed to get done, done? That’s SUPER 8.
But the single best thing about the movie, to me?
Elle Fanning’s Alice Dainard. She’s the love interest for two of the boys above. She is awesome. She’s the kind of little girl, that when you’re a young boy… you crush on. In fact, she’s one of them heartbreakers. Now, I didn’t much care for her in Sofia’s SOMEWHERE… nor did I care for her in THE NUTCRACKER in 3D (although for both those films, I didn’t care for much of anything), but in SUPER 8 – if you don’t care for her… she’s Fay Wray. And when the film does a bit of the 1933 KING KONG thing… my god I fell in love. But I was already head over heels for this film before you ever see the creature.
Watching Alice and Joe in his bedroom together. Nothing out of line, just the intimacy of both doing what their parents told them not to… and for all of that to simply be friends. That’s all they are. They’re friends trying to understand why their fathers hate one another – and if the story doesn’t hit you… well, I don’t know what to say. Suffice to say, the two fathers have a lot to deal with. Luckily their kids are doing most of the healing themselves.
Now, the pressing question. The Alien. How is it? It is a J.J. Abrams alien. Multi-limbed, very ferocious and scary as all hell. This creature looks like something the military would abuse. It doesn’t, buy human experience, seem like it would be intelligent and that’s the source of it’s angst. I love the creature’s back-story. That this was an intelligent, sentient beast that the military abused, tormented and experimented upon – and it wants two things. I get the feeling that it wants revenge & that it wants to get the fuck off this shithole planet that has treated it like a character from MIDNIGHT EXPRESS.
I’m very curious to rewatch the film next week and see if I pick up on the creature’s performance. As it is – man, I really want to see its lair again, there’s some dark shit going on in that place, not up front and obvious – but well… I won’t spoil it.
This all said, this isn’t a film about the creature. This isn’t E.T. This is a film about a Father that doesn’t respect his son, his son’s friends and what his son wants… and this is the story of how that boy changed his father’s mind. The moment when he gets that respect, I love.
All of this said, this is very much a film made with today’s technology and quite a bit of JJ’s personal visual aesthetic. SUPER 8 is evocative of the 70’s film, without being any one of them. What I love about the film is it has the same kind of believable reality that the films that JJ named as his inspirations. I can believe that somewhere Richard Dreyfus is somewhere beyond our experience, in this universe’s far future Ripley is having a hell of a time, in just a few years Eliot will have a very different alien experience, but I’ve often felt that all my favorite films of the 70’s & 80’s existed in a genre universe where they could all exist together, separated by geographic location & time – but they felt like they exist in my universe.
SUPER 8 could have happened in my childhood. I think that’s what JJ was going for – and that’s what he did. He made a film that is about the kids that grew up as the generation that was taught to dream by a select group of filmmakers that we saw together. He made a kids film that attempts to stylistically exist in that universe as ultimately a rather small sweet story about growing up when the Alien got loose in your town and the military does what the military did in those movies. Over react grotesquely.
I may very well write again about this film after multiple viewings. Once I have more fully digested it. Nordling is probably going to lose his mind over this. I’m dying to really get in to discussing this film with my friends. Which ones will swoon, which ones will bitch and moan. That’s the fun of film going, the conversations. With this – I haven’t had that opportunity yet, but I guarantee you – I will have many geeky dreamy conversations and for that, I have SUPER 8 to thank. The kids are truly super!