If, as the saying goes, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, then someone forgot to tell JJ Abrams.
If, as the saying goes, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, then someone forgot to tell JJ Abrams. His newest talkie Super 8, out today, is deliberately composed in the style of 1970s and 80s Spielberg (who serves as executive producer on this).
The end product – leaving aside a clumsy final act – is glorious, and will, I guarantee, bring to mind certain classics from your youth that you will then feel compelled to hunt down and re-live again afterwards.
With that in mind, here are eight options for you to enjoy after watching Super 8:
*E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982):
Super 8 shamelessly – though lovingly – channels arguably Spielberg’s most personal film. Okay so the outer-space critter in Abrams’ movie is no cute, beer-guzzling, The Quiet Man-enjoying Christ-metaphor, but so many other touches from E.T make themselves apparent. For instance, there’s the military lockdown in a quiet suburban town; a homesick alien; more than one single parent struggling to stay afloat and connect with their child; a nerdy kid falling for the school babe. There are even some scenes shot from the child’s POV a la E.T.
Hell, even Super 8’s leading (mini) lady Elle Fanning looks spookily like E.T’s pre-pubescent love interest, Erika Eleniak (remember her? Bless).
*Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977):
Spielberg’s first alien movie casts a large shadow over Super 8. The plot of Abrams’ movie is even set in 1979 as some kind of tribute. The small town mystery elements of Super 8 – who or what caused the train derailment and is subsequently causing all manner of weird shee-at to go down – is very much in the mould of Close Encounters’ suburban UFO-chasing story. That same sense of awe, as well as the strong emotional undercurrent, is also present.
*Stand By Me (1986):
Probably the best thing about Super 8 is that the children’s frienships are at the centre of the story, and the young cast collectively play a blinder injecting so much heart into just about every one of their scenes.
The coming-of-age aspects of the story are handled extremely well, while the kids – just like their filmic antecedents in Stand By Me – have to deal with some heavy adult emotions like death and loss, not to mention love. Plus a train and railway line is central to both stories. Can’t forget that.
*Jurassic Park (1993):
In terms of pacing, Super 8 takes its cue from The Bearded One’s early-90s dino-smash. The train crash is spectacular, but the subsequent mid-section of the movie is pretty quiet. Deceptively so, as it turns out, because almost without you realising, that sense of foreboding and menace is all the while being slowly stoked.
Like in Jurassic Park, Super 8 prefers the what-you-can’t-see-is-scarier approach as we get blurry attacks from the creature’s POV, while vehicles are stomped and humans are dragged away screaming across the ground to their doom by unseen forces. The gas station sequence in Super 8 is a great example of this.
The Goonies (1985):
Spielberg’s executive producer influence is as equally evident in Super 8 as it was in Richard Donner’s mid-80s adventure classic about a ragtag bunch of small town American kids on the hunt for a missing pirate ship and its booty of gold. Abrams’ most obvious nod to The Goonies is in creating a group of finely delineated young characters, all with their own strengths and weaknesses, that combined help them to survive peril and solve the mystery, all while cycling around a lot and trying to convince skeptical, harried adults that they’re not letting their imaginations run away with them.
Super 8 loses marks, however, for having no Mama Fratelli, Sloth, or Cyndi Lauper title track with all the actors acting like goons in the video…oh now I get it!
There’s no escaping this one. If I didn’t know any better I’d say that the alien monster in JJ Abrams’ 2008 flick is the exact same as the one in Super 8. However, there are big differences in terms of temperament, as new viewers of Super 8 will eventually realise.
Still, Abrams deploys the same trick of delaying giving audiences a clear view of the creature until as late as possible. Plus there’s that whole ‘mediating the entire experience on camera’ thing that underpins the action of both movies.
Sure, JJ Abrams is best known for two other, far more successful TV series (Alias and Lost), but one of his earliest jobs was in creating and running this well-written college-based drama about a nerdy girl who follows her high school crush to New York to attend the same university.
There are no aliens or monsters involved, but Felicity is still pure Abrams: his natural sympathy with and for lonely young people and big dreamers; a fascination with personal re-invention; defying your parents; shouldering more responsibility than appropriate for your age; self-deprecating humour; being openly heartfelt and clumsy in pursuit of the object of your affection. It’s all there. Plus, if you look closely, you’ll spot a lot of actors who regularly pop up in Abrams’ work (Amanda Foreman and Greg Grunberg, for example).
*Friday Night Lights (2006-2011):
No, not the 2004 Billy Bob Thornton movie, but rather its TV spinoff. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it or watched it – not many have. But the only thing I can say to you about that is SHAME ON YOU. Seriously, I can’t look at you right now. Go over there…over there!
Anyway, this gets a mention not only because it’s amongst the greatest American drama series of the past 30 years, but also because it stars Super 8’s super-sad super-daddy Kyle Chandler as a tough but inspirational high school American football coach dealing with a motley crew of troubled but innately decent young players.
As in Super 8, Chandler can do more with one look, and one delivered-through-gritted-teeth line of dialogue than some actors do in entire movies. He deserves to be a much bigger star.