“Super 8” Captures Alien Dreams on Film
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Not to take anything away from director J. J. Abrams (he gave us the “Star Trek” reboot, TV’s “Alias” and “Lost”), but producer Steven Spielberg’s name easily overshadows when it comes to the new sci-fi thriller “Super 8.”
Thanks to such classics as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” it’s hard not to think of Spielberg without thinking of aliens (and great white sharks and holocaust victims). He’s a producer-director who leaves his imprint.
I can’t say I’ve met Steven Spielberg, but I did exchange waves with him once. My friends and I were staying at Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee’s rambling old house in East Hampton, right across from Spielberg’s place. From the second-story window you could look right into Spielberg’s fenced-in compound. One day the director pulled into his driveway as I was staring out the window. He looked up and saw me, hesitated, and then waved.
No neon-lit spaceships hovered over his house that night. No cute little extraterrestrials knocked on my door asking to use the phone. No train wrecks outside of town released any dangerous aliens.
But in Spielberg’s head – and later on movie screens – all that happens.
“I dream for a living,” he once said.
As I said, “Super 8” – the new sci-fi thriller currently playing at Regal Cinema 6 – is directed by J. J. Abrams, but produced by Spielberg. Quite a teaming.
Unlike those atom-bomb-fear-driven sci-fi movies of the ’50s, Spielberg doesn’t usually show us the dark side of invaders from outer space. The aliens in “Close Encounters” were friendly, even musical. And the visitor in “E.T.” was cuddly enough to spawn toy lines. But “Super 8” is different, more a monster movie than not.
A train wreck outside of a small Ohio town releases a government-captured alien. And suddenly the town’s dogs go missing. Then citizens disappear one by one.
Who’s to save us? Well, the town’s brave lawman (think: “Jaws”). And a kid who accidentally films the train crash on his super 8 camera (kind of a “Blow Up” moment).
Instead of the late Roy Schieder we have Kyle Chandler as the cop. And instead of Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore, we have Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning as leaders of those six cute kids who investigate these strange goings-on.
Spielberg himself doesn’t see this film as a departure. “I’ve had darkness in all the films,” he insists. “There are moments in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ that are brutally dark. I just don’t think people have stopped to study. They assume that I suddenly developed a dark side because of ‘Schindler’s List.’ When critics carp about my dark side, I always wonder, ‘Well, did they really look in the shadows?’”
He once said of his film “Poltergeist” (directed by Tobe Hooper), “It’s the darker side of my nature, it’s me when I was scaring my younger sisters half to death. In ‘Poltergeist,’ I wanted to terrify and I also wanted to amuse – I tried to mix the laughs and screams together.”
With “Super 8,” it’s not so much the mixture of chills and laughter that audiences will find significant. It’s this darker view of extraterrestrial life.
“Whenever I try to tell a risky story, whether it’s about sharks or dinosaurs, or about aliens or about history, I’ll always be thinking, ‘Am I going to get away with this?’” says Spielberg.
“When I don’t have that worry, I won’t make that movie.”
J.J. Abrams, who has already directed a monster-on-the-loose film called ‘Cloverfield,’ has this to add: “All people need to know is that it’s an adventure about a small town and it’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s scary and there’s a mystery: What is this thing that has escaped? What are the ramifications of its presence? And what is the effect on people?”
“Super 8” is the amalgam of two film pitches that Abrams made to Spielberg. The first, a coming-of-age film about small-town kids in the ’70s. The second, a film about the government moving alien monsters out of Area 51 on midnight trains – “one of which never reaches its final destination.”
Why go see it? As Spielberg explains: “After a scary movie about the world almost ending, we can walk into the sunlight and say, ‘Wow, everything’s still here. I’m okay!’ We like to tease ourselves. Human beings have a need to get close to the edge and, when filmmakers or writers can take them to the edge, it feels like a dream where you’re falling, but you wake up just before you hit the ground.”
Or before ravenous aliens come to earth.
[from Solares Hill]