While watching Super 8, I kept trying to pinpoint what it was about it that made me feel so…nostalgic. Set in 1979, the outfits and hairstyles do well with the subtle march out of 70s style into that of the 80s, Deborah Harry’s “Heart of Glass” is played on a Walkman in one scene, and movie posters I remember from my own youth adorn the wall of the budding director in the group of young characters around whom the action centers. All of that could have accounted for the feeling, but it didn’t quite explain it. There was something more going on as I watched.
Directed by JJ Abrams of LOST, Coverfield, and Star Trek fame, Super 8 has plenty to recommend it. Abrams knows how to work magic by dropping just the right amount of suspense into the lives of characters so likable and authentic that you can not help but root for them from the beginning. He also knows how to keep the focus always on the characters’ journey, not the big reveal.
And lets not forget, he casts beautifully. While Ron Elard and Kyle Chandler are very good in their roles as complicated and damaged fathers, it is the children, played by Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee and Zach Mills, who are clearly the stars. It is hard to know who steals the most scenes, because they are all so 100% perfect in their time on camera. I wanted to say something about each, but I realized I had the urge to to write about both their roles with the film AND the film within the film and it just got too complicated. Just trust me: they’re all brilliant.
And the source of that nostalgia I was talking about? It hit me when I realized how much I was laughing. Laughing because, damn, this is how kids talk. The dialogue was so funny, the pacing so spot on, that somewhere midway through the film I realized: this isn’t just a movie set on the eve of the 80s…this is an 80s movie. The whole thing feels like a mix between The Goonies, Stand By Me and just a *smidge* of ET.
The writing and the casting and whatever it is that Abrams had to do to get these performances out of these kids or whatever these kids had to do to get this performance out of Abrams…it all works just like in the 80s, when directors/writers knew how to write about kids without making them seem far too simple or far too complicated (I’m looking at you, Dawson’s Creek). They get scared, they get mad at each other, they laugh like actual kids when something funny happens. I tell you, I was positively transported. I left doing the Truffle Shuffle.
You may have noticed by now that I haven’t said much about the plot. Yeah, I kind of did it on purpose. In short, it is about a group of friends who love to make movies. One night, they witness a train accident and their lives get significantly more complicated. I know it’s being billed as an action movie, and please believe me: it is. The action is non-stop once it starts, but it is not about the monster, it’s about the kids.
Mostly, like all great 80s movies, it is about being a hero, if you can.
P. S. As if all of that wasn’t cool enough, the movie the characters are making? A zombie movie. If you’re going to have a movie within a movie, a zombie movie within a…”monster that will remain nameless for the sake of avoiding spoilers” movie is tough to beat. According to a source (a former student of mine who pointed this out to me just now), the kids actually wrote this zombie movie themselves. More reason to find them extra awesome.
For those trivia buffs out there, check out this article, detailing 8 references to Steven Spielberg flicks within Super 8. Warning: the article contains spoilers.
PPS – I know I have grossly over-generalized 80s movies into being awesome. I mean, while I can’t deny I loved me some Red Dawn, I could hardly argue it was an accurate portrayal of how youths respond to crisis.
Let us know your favorite 80s-teen-flicks by voting in our poll or leaving a comment.
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