For all of our admiration for Steven Spielberg, the guy hasn’t been able to please the public as of recent. Munich was fantastic, but his most recent film, which will go unnamed in fear of outraging fans by even acknowledging its existence, gave way to a multitude of “Raped my childhood” comments.
But no matter your opinion of that film, it seems difficult to argue that Spielberg’s peak was reached at some point in the 80s with films that appealed to all, but spoke loudest to a generation of kids that grew up with fuzzy memories of films like E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark. So when news hit that J.J. Abrams’ third film, Super 8, would be inspired by this period of Spielberg’s filmography (and even be produced by Spielberg,) there was reason to get excited.
While Super 8 never achieves the magic that defined movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Abrams’ film is more than worthy of the Spielberg stamp. In it, we meet a ragtag middle-schoolers excited for another summer and a short Zombie film they plan on producing and submitting to a film festival. There’s more to their lives – girls, asshole Dads, little siblings that won’t stop stomping – but it’s all moved to the background when the kids become witness to a horrific Train crash.
This is the centerpiece of the film. Abrams may (err, definitely does) exaggerate the wreck, in which train cars are catipulted over each other in hot pursuit of the kids as they try to flee the scene. But it’s backed up by the sheer terror it creates onscreen as firey metal spits itself ever more forward.
Only minutes later, their small Ohio town is occupied by the U.S. Air Force as things begin disappearing – electricity, dogs and car engines, to name a few. It’s pretty clear, pretty fast, that something stuck on the train has escaped, and it’s something the Air Force doesn’t feel like disclosing.
So, at its core, Super 8 is a monster film. But Abrams proves that a creature feature needs more than its creature to work, just as Spielberg did with Jaws. He packs the adolesence of Joe, our main protagonist, with the same things all preteens experience, and the 1979 setting of the film only makes the experience all the more nostalgic.
Though at the same time, one couldn’t be blamed for wishing there was more action. By the end of the film, the Horror component of the film almost feels like a side-plot – it’s difficult to have something as fantastic as rogue beast showdown occur in the background.
But both parts of the film work well, and they work well together. Super 8 is the kind of film every summer blockbuster released tries to be – just as exciting as it is genuine. Any filmmaker should be proud to have inspired this kind of legacy.