Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The movie "E.T". came out when I was sixteen. It wasn't just seeing the movie itself, but the act of physically going to see the movie. I was spending the summer in Cape May. And the next morning I was scheduled to go to a physical therapy clinic in Atlantic City. They were going to try to straighten my body. I was dreading it.
Like Elliott in "E.T". I was surrounded by identical houses in the suburban area of Cape May under a midnight sky. As my own physique was not the norm, I too, felt Outside--a star-flung traveler. After all, my feet seldom touched the ground. My Grandfather was adamant. "Ian shouldn't go to the movie. He has a doctor's appointment!" But my Dad let me go.
In watching " Super 8", I couldn't help having these recalls of memory. Here are six kids from a suburban neighborhood who want to make a monster movie. One of the kids, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) bears a startling resemblance to Henry Thomas. There is also a glib chubby kid Charles (Riley Griffiths) who looks a little like the smart aleck character, Chunk in "The Goonies" (1985). This is no accident, since "Super 8" is produced by Spielberg, who knows how to treat children as people in much the same way Hal Roach did in the 1930s, by portraying their quirks without condescension.
And in "Super 8" the kids are the best aspect of the film. They are glue that holds it all together. They want to make a zombie movie with a super 8 camera. It is the late 70s and each one of them is in charming cahoots against the adults, who are too wrapped up in problems to really know what their children are doing. Like in any Speilberg movie, the parents are out of touch or eerie, wearing big key chains or overlarge shoes that go thump. You can't help feeling for the boys who resort to the movies to escape parental dysfunction.
Young Charles is about to make a breakthrough. He wants to film a crucial scene by the railroad tracks. There is the cue of wind and a blue beam of light. Where had I seen that before... Of course---"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977). These references are quite intentional, for in "Super 8", J.J. Abrams and Spielberg are telling of their own childhood aspirations and (re-hashing?) legacies.
The kids watch a horrible train-wreck and their dropped camera holds a secret. They must never tell their parents what lies behind the lens.
The film's strength is in its characters and in the vivid recreation of the 1970s as a period. Here is awful decor in all its orange and brown glory and here are the mature parents looking as naugahyde and drab as you might expect. The film doesn't pull punches. The grown ups are foul and coarse, but nobody is all good or all bad. The one odd note in the film that seems off key is that the kids scream and holler holy Hell whenever they see something horrible. (Eek!) At such times it seems more like a roller coaster ride than a meaty film. If we are really scared as children, aren't we usually scared speechless? I can get into the Earth vs. monsters idea that the film presents in the style of 1950s movie camp. But I have to say that after a while, this becomes a bit boring and contrived. So modeled it is after films like "War of the Worlds" (1953) and other George Pal classics.
"Super 8" starts out as a heartfelt autobiography detailing the genesis of a Spielbergan imagination with humor and gusto, but soon becomes two films in one. It does too much. Had the film stayed on the trajectory of young childhood, it would have been as deft as E.T's finger, perhaps becoming science fiction's answer to "Au revoir, les enfants". Yet with all the explosions and military charges and BoomBoomBoom! I feel I stayed a bit too long in Elliott's bedroom.
But perhaps it is enough to see this and not worry remembering my former self, as a young boy bundled in my chrome chair with my index finger extended, in one hope, to somehow touch the flickering screen.
Write Ian at email@example.com