CB'S POV: Back to the Future ("Super 8")

Ok, let’s get this out of the way first: ALL THE BLACK PEOPLE IN THIS MOVIE ARE KILLED BEFORE THE END. And one may even be considered the victim of a black-on-black crime. For some of you, I just saved you the price of a ticket.

You’re welcome.

Now, for everybody else…

Steven Spielberg (the producer) got his first filmmaking experiences as a kid using his father’s movie camera. J.J. Abrams (writer and director) was inspired to get behind the camera after taking a tour of Universal Studios as a kid. After crossing paths for years in Hollywood, they finally collaborated on Super 8, the kind of movie they would have made as kids if they’d had the resources they have now.

Four months after his mother’s death, Joey Lamb and his middle school friends are out past midnight, filming a zombie move they hope to enter in a student film competition when they witness (and are almost killed by) a horrific train derailment caused, improbably by their science teacher. The next day they know something is wrong—the news accounts of the accident do not jibe with what they witnessed and the Air Force shows up to “clean up” the crash. Then everyone’s dog runs away at the same time, people start disappearing, there’s a rash of odd thefts—and then really strange things start happening.

Super 8 is a movie about movies (the young director has to contend with actors complaining about script changes, crew problems, financing) but it is also a movie about the movies of Spielberg during that period (1979). There are nods to Jaws (like the shark, you don’t see the monster until near the end of the film, the behavior of the police department), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the lone power linesman investigating the power outage, mysterious government trucks driving around), E.T: The Extraterrestrial (kids with their own agenda and totally oblivious parents) and, skipping ahead a few years, the remake of the War of the Worlds. There are also nods to Abrams’ own work (Cloverfield) as well as Teen Team movies like The Goonies. Intertwined with the main story is the story of young love and a father and son connecting over a common grief.

There’s one odd omission: two years after Star Wars, none of our cinema-savvy kids seem to have heard of it (in fact, it doesn’t seem to even exist in this world). And there’s a ting about letting go that is simultaneously literal, metaphysical and touching. But perhaps the biggest kick is to see “low tech” in action again, when people have to use analog solutions to problems that could be solved with a couple of keystrokes in the digital age.

In a summer full of expected blockbusters either ending, beginning or continuing franchises, Super 8 is a pleasant anomaly: a stand-alone vehicle reminding us why we liked these movies in the first place.

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