In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Super 8 is pure nostalgia, but it’s nostalgia done right.”
“Stop talking about production value, the Air Force is going to kill us.”
JJ Abrams is the franchise king. Sure, Star Wars: The Force Awakens would have been huge without him, but would it have been as universally liked and become the highest grossing movie of all time without him? Before that, he did a pretty great job of rebooting the Star Trek series for the new millennium. And before that, his big screen, directorial debut was a Mission Impossible movie that I don’t think anyone knew they wanted, until they saw it, and then the franchise was all of a sudden alive and relevant again. In fact, there’s only one movie in the Abrams directorial canon that isn’t a reboot of a classic franchise. Which is what makes Super 8 the most unique Abrams joint.
After the death of his mother in a factory accident, adolescent Joe (Joel Courtney) and his father (Kyle Chandler as local the deputy, Jackson) struggle to figure out what life and family are without her. When not at school, Joe and his friends make super 8 movies. The self appointed director of the group, (Charles Kaznyk as Riley) is determined to up the production values of their latest and convinces the group to film at a local train station after dark. With school friend Alice (Elle Fanning) roped in so they can add a romance level to the story, filming is interrupted when a train approaching the platform hits a car on the tracks, derails and chaos ensues.
As the dust settles, the kids realise that the car was being driven by one of their school teachers, Dr Woodward (Glynnn Tyurman), who regains consciousness just long enough to warn the kids that they need to run. If the wrong people know they saw what they did, the lives of the witnesses and their families are in jeopardy. When the army and shady government G men start to arrive in the small town, it’s obvious that the cargo on the train isn’t something the general public is supposed to know about.
I know I made a big point about Super 8 being Abram’s only non-franchise movie, but that’s not entirely true. Sure, it’s an original story and the characters aren’t from other, pre existing properties, but this is such a faithful, well executed homage to Spielberg moves of the 80s, that it almost goes beyond homage and could be seen as updating or rebooting of E.T, combined with a bit of The Goonies. Because E.T is so sacrosanct, I’m sure some people saw Super 8 as a cheap imitation, but I really dug it.
Like E.T, I love the way Abrams captures the suburbs from a kid’s point of view. For a kid, these neighbourhoods aren’t about the houses and the backyards. They’re about the spaces in between. The vacant lots, the parks, the short cuts through industrial spots, the places kids can exploit on a BMX, but adults could never take their cars. It reminds me so much of my own childhood, that I immediately relate to these kids and their lives, even when crazy, alien stuff starts to go down.
Super 8 is pure nostalgia, but it’s nostalgia done right. And even though the main characters are kids, I don’t think it’s really a kids’ movie. It’s a movie made for people who were kids in the 80s, and grew up on a steady diet of Spielberg adventure, but are adults now. It also made me realise that there’s another movie just as blatant in its nostalgia, but it gets a pass because it’s built around adults, and was made by nerd kings Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The World’s End is just as much a throwback to these kinds of movies as Super 8. I have no real insight to add to that comparison, I just found it interesting as I was watching the movie.