A lot of things ran through my mind as I watched Super 8. The old Amblin logo that kicked off the movie triggered a sensory response in me, as it was meant to do. I thought about my dad and his repeated attempts to bond with me, a kid whom he didn’t completely understand. I wasn’t into sports like he was. I wasn’t really into much of anything for a while. It would be many years before I stopped having panic attacks because of the movies, paving the way for them to become something about which I am passionate. I thought about this because at the heart of the wonderful new film from JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg is a story about a kid struggling in his relationship with his father who just doesn’t get him.
Super 8 is a modern movie about another era. It’s a love letter to the first real decades of popcorn movies. It’s a good old-fashioned monster flick and by ‘old-fashioned’ I’m not just talking about it’s 1970’s setting. It’s a throwback to the 70’s and 80’s when young filmmakers like Spielberg and Zemeckis were making genre movies that were inspired by the films of their youths. Super 8 is a movie made by a man raised on that Amblin logo. And it’s made for people who were also raised on those films.
Super 8 is a movie about kids, but it’s not for kids. Not young kids anyway. It’s scary and intense, filled with explosions and death. Much like Spielberg's Jaws, it’s about what you’re not seeing but what you know is out there.
Super 8 has been drawing a lot of comparisons to movies like The Goonies and E.T. And while there are elements that evoke those movies--it's a story that is told through the point-of-view of kids--the comparisons aren’t completely just. The movies of the 80’s often had an exuberance and a sense of whimsy. Super 8 is serious and very grounded. It has splashes of levity, but make no mistake it is as every bit a drama as it is a thriller, complete with emotional story lines that don’t pull any punches. But much like the early Amblin films, it presents kids as they really are, not super-cute and artificial. It's about kids and the complicated relationships they can have with their fathers. It’s about generations learning to understand each other.
It’s a well-made movie through and through, featuring a cast of young performers that manage to find more depth than actors beyond their years. In the midst of all of the mayhem and carnage, it’s got heart. Which is also why it draws comparisons to those movies of the past.
It’s also a lot of fun. Without giving anything away, it’s safe to say that the action scenes are spectacular and the tension gets expertly ratcheted throughout in startlingly effective ways. Abrams uses sound, music and light (or sometimes the lack of light) to draw you to the edge of your seat. It's not a wholly original movie but it's confident and it works.
Super 8 definitely touched a nerve in me as a movie fan and as a former timid kid who spent as much time in movie theater parking lots with my dad as I did in actual movie theaters. It’s the kind of movie that would have completely freaked out my 12 year-old self, making me lose sleep for months and forcing my dad to spend a great deal of time talking me off the proverbial edge. But it’s the kind of movie that truly I’m glad I love now. It’s a popcorn movie done right.
As I sat in that theater, enjoying the ride on the screen, I couldn’t help but wonder what my dad would think about that.