Super 8 - And Here's to You, Mr. Spielberg...
| The time that has past between the release of Jurassic Park and the release of this summerís Super 8 is more than 18 years. Thatís a long dry-spell to suffer through for those in search for a certain brand of film-going fun. Itís also (barely) over half of my life. I suppose I am indeed a movie guy if this is how I measure my time spent on Earth.
As much as I wanted them to, the Star Wars prequels and (to a lesser degree) Indy 4 (now that I have enough distance from it) just didnít get it done. Iíve seen many memorable films since that summer in 1993 when ďAn Adventure 65 Million Years in the MakingĒ made its way to my hometown, but since that time I canít remember being so giddy about a summer movie as I was this past weekend about Super 8 Ė from anticipation, through viewing, and now upon reflection, J.J. Abramsí homage to Spielberg magic has to be the most satisfying summer adventure movie Iíve experienced since graduating high school, and that was some time ago.
I wonít reveal any spoilers, but enough people have compared this to Close Encounters and E.T. for me to speak freely. Super 8, for me, also had a lot in common with Spielbergís War of the Worlds (thereís even a blonde Fanning child in it!) and Rob Rienerís Stand By Me. As in the case of the latter, Super 8 is primarily a story about youth in the summer time. If you grew-up in middle-class North America in the 1980s, and while watching this film donít have at least a twinge of nostalgia for your own summer vacations filled garden sprinklers, walkie-talkies, BMX bikes, and secret meetings with friends, then thereís no talking to you.
As is the case with more than a few Spielbergian films, Super 8 is about fathers in crisis, and there are fine performances here to guide us through their pain. From the adult side, Ron Eldard is almost unrecognizable as an alcoholic neighbor whose drinking has spread tragic consequences outside of just his own family, and Kyle Chandler of TVís Friday Night Lights brings his grown-up boy scout good looks to the role of our main protagonistís father, Jackson Lamb Ė a man who finds a great deal of weight dropped on his shoulders for the first time, and nearly crumbles under it all.
As much as the CGI and stunt work thrill, the faces tell the story. As a director, Abrams is greatly concerned with the peripheral goings-on of family: TV dinners and toys scattered about the homes of the happy and semi-privileged, and darker, wood paneled places where dads take their sons for pizza amid the smoking and drinking because, after all these years, there were some elements of parenting that regrettably werenít shared, and what is dad supposed to do now? Itís all there in awkward assertions that itís time for his Science-Fiction and model-making obsessed son to man-up over this summer vacation, and to put child-hood things away. But dad can barely get the words out before heís hiding his mouth behind trembling and quickly folded hands. Is this the first time heís ever really spoken to his son? It must feel that way for the both of them.
I mention these things because as a (mostly) grown-up film-goer, itís easier now to look back on what really made Spielbergís amazing and fantastical stories ring so true Ė the tiny details: the way children try to hide their pain by talking back to their moms, the way they use their own language of sharing toys and stories of personal loss with beings that they canít communicate with in any other way, and the way that parents express frustration over the growing distance between themselves and their growing children. Thereís cathartic value in Richard Dreyfuss playing with his food or trying against hope to convince his kids to see Pinocchio, or Tom Cruise doing his best to make a peanut butter sandwich for Dakota Fanning, when all she really wants is hummus and pita and he just doesnít get it, which is important Ė despite the fact that most of New York is gone.
These are the works of directors who know how to speak to people in the middle of magic or magical carnage. There is more revealed in the dramatic tension around the dinner table in E.T. than there is in the entirety of any Michael Bay film.
Speaking of which, another Sci-Fi action movie this summer will be greatly concerned with highlighting the curves of the ass of Megan Foxís replacement. That is detail to, but itís not the kind that anybody really cares about, because nobodyís ever been there, and who among us can relate? Donít lie to yourself. Somehow, Speilberg has his name on both films. Go figure.
A last word about the ensemble cast: it is stellar. Itís a revelation to read these charactersí faces as Abramís shows them to us Ė and he takes his time. As Spielberg did, so too does Abrams get a lot of use out of the zooming close-up and accompanying harp soundtrack, and what wonders the characters bear witness to Ė from a train crash, to a family death, to the pangs of first love, and a friendship tested - not to mention all of the other stuff I can't mention here. All are regarded with about the same level of appropriate weight by the raw (and mostly rookie) child actors who make excellent dramatic stand-ins for audience members of any age. We care for these kids, and itís telling that I am more reluctant to give anything away in regards to what transpires between them, than I would be to reveal spoilers about just what exactly is busting its way out of that derailed military boxcar.
Amid all of the Sci-Fi magic that is the driving force of the story here, Super 8 is a very human story and if what you want when you go to a summer movie is to have your inner child accessed without being talked down to, you wonít find a better bet than Abramís ode to the things that inspired him to be where he is as a director now, and that's a pretty special place.