And, of course, for a while there just about all of these films had as many imitators as that front guy in a line dancing class that is being simulcast globally to conventions of celebrity impersonators cloned from twin lookalikes. That said, these seemed to fade away, absent notice, proving for years the old adage that "they don't make 'em like they used to", bro!
That is until fans of those movies start making movies of their own. Fans like J.J. Abrams who has made sunspot sized splashes on television and the big screen over the past decade or so. And now he's bringing back that kids-against-the-world genre that we never see anymore. We're seeing it now in a little big film called Super 8!
The film feels like just what it's intended to be... a new classic of that subgenre of adventure flicks and it's got so many of the hallmarks of the movies that inspired it that it's gained both praise and derision for its liberal fingerprint pilfering. I mean, seriously, folks... how would Spielberg himself feel if he saw how much was borrowed from the film-style he contributed so much to? Well, seeing as how Steven Spielberg is the actual Executive Producer of Super 8, I think he's going to be pretty okay with the whole thing, man!
Further, and here's the thing, Abrams, as both writer and director stops far short of actually ripping off the plot points of his inspiration. Sure the elements are there, from the small town group of boys and girls to the visiting alien to the parents who just don't understand to the government interference that only the kids can stand up against... yeah, the themes echo warmly. But the story behind Super 8 is original... feeling a lot like a visit from an old friend, but an old friend with new stories and bold new adventures to tell.
In the tiny forlorn factory town of Lillian, Ohio some time around the turn of the decade from the Polyester 1970s to the Neon 1980s, a tight knit group of Junior High kids are leaving behind their woes by collaborating on a super 8 MM Zombie Flick. You've got Charles (Riley Griffiths), the "visionary" writer and director of the project; Cary (Ryan Lee), the creepy pyromaniac kid, on set so he can set things on fire; Martin (Gabriel Basso), the one-dimensional lead of the film-within-a-film; Preston (Zach Mills), seemingly added to the cast of this long film so he could contribute one McGuffin in the second half and Joe (Joel Courtney), the much more than one-dimensional star of the main film. The only thing missing is a viable female lead to play the love interest of both the film-within-a-film's star and the main movie's main character. Enter Alice (Elle Fanning), whom all the boys could easily fall for.
The only problem is that Joe's dad Jackson (Kyle Chandler) and Alice's dad Louis (Ron Eldard) have more than enough reason to passionately hate each other, which hardly bodes well for a teen romance between Joe and Alice, right?
Clearly they've got little time to be all THAT worried about that, seeing as how a crazy train goes off the rails, interrupting filming and spilling out its top-secret cargo... including something that might well be alive, well and looking for its copious collection of classic Rubik's Cubes.
Soon the town is teaming with Air Force officers like Nelec (Noah Emmerich) and Mad Scientists like Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), not to mention stoners like Donny (David Gallagher), who just might be in 7Th Heaven to be chasing after hotties like Jen (Amanda Michalka)!
There is a great deal of charm that manages to make this Period Piece actually feel like it was made in the year its set in, from the style of the actors to the look of the picture to the very score by composer Michael Giacchino. On the other hand, there is no question that this is a big, 2011 blockbuster style summer movie, packed with digital tricks and CGI that were, themselves, science fiction back in the age of "Super 8"! That said, the mixture is effective and fun, while managing to remain both scary and action-packed.
The Alien itself (nicknamed "Cooper" looks great in that oddball Cloverfield sort of way. The design (reportedly by Neville Page) is sufficiently other-worldly, while the motion-capture acting by Bruce Greenwood gives the visitor a strange sort of humanity that adds a layer of depth.
Where Super 8 hits a few torn sprocket holes and bad splices in the development has to do with the lack of depth in certain characters, combined with an occasionally easy or cliche progression in the script. Because the film is overall quite smart and adept, these stand out like a sore tentacle. The old knock-out and steal uniform trick is used to an unintentionally humorous extent and the occasional "coming of age" and "male bonding" moment feels a tad heavy-handed.
Perhaps this is because Abrams' intent to create "this kind" of movie is so clearly seen from the outset, like a thesis statement before a dissertation. At times Abrams' "homages" are quite obvious indeed! This isn't a bad thing, of course, and what Abrams sets out to do, he accomplishes quite well. Still, films have evolved and changed for better or for worse and the occasional revert back to 1979 with a 2011 budget feels just a bit like diving into a cold pool after soaking in a hot tub. Luckily, this is only occasionally and anyone who praised the throwback filmmaking in films like Grindhouse and Zombieland need to find something else to complain about when it comes to Super 8!
Why? Because to dissect Super 8 too severely for the very things that make it unique in the current era would be to miss out on a good film worth somewhere around Four Stars out of Five! Are there flaws to be found in this Science Fiction Horror Flick? Most definitely! But there are flaws in the films it was inspired by as well. It's quite a combination, dudes and chicks and well worth a view for an up or down vote. Now, if you'll excuse me... I gotta MOVE! See you in the Next Reel!
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As Alien as ANYTHING you've ever seen.