I don't remember 1979, as I was just a baby at the time. I do have a fondness for the era since I grew up on Steven Spielberg movies and imbibed some of his love of the period. Two of his most memorable movies were set during the time; E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Apparently, J.J. Abrams is also from the same generation I am, if his homage to Spielberg's masterworks is any evidence.
Super 8, the latest from the director of the Star Trek reboot, is very similar to both those iconic films and shares a lot of the heart. While most science fiction is concerned with what might go wrong in the future, projecting current trends to their eventual apocalyptic culminations, Spielberg's shows always left you more upbeat, telling you that in the end, not all aliens are out to eat you or steal your natural resources.
Abrams' story is set in a small Ohio town where a group of kids is preparing to film their very own monster movie. While filming a big scene at a train station, they witness a horrible derailment. Soon, their sleepy little town is invaded by G-men who are searching for something as people begin disappearing mysteriously.
Frankly, the alien angle is just a sort of catalyst for the drama about two single fathers trying to learn to connect with their kids. Abrams' portrayal of the way American dads relate to their children hits the mark with me. Kyle Chandler as protagonist's Joe Lamb's dad is exactly how I remember the military dads in my old neighborhood; gruff, stern, reluctant to show affection. I love the way the film begins so quietly in the wake of Mrs. Lamb where Jackson is struggling with his wife's death. Only after we're well into the film and familiar with the cast does it ramp up. That's something you see so little of nowadays. Everyone wants to start with a big action scene; reel them in with explosions and gunfire.
Of course, this is a J.J. Abrams film, so the explosions and gunfire eventually show up, but by then you're immersed.
I loved the casting and acting in this film. There's a great supporting cast that includes Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich, and Bruce Greenwood, but the real leads are the kids, ably headed by Joel Courtney (Joe Lamb) and Elle Fanning (Alice Dainard). I wish child actors in the Philippines had this much range.
Another thing I really enjoyed in the film was the music. It's been a while since I've heard a theme that really stuck in chord with me. I think the last was Javier Navarrete's haunting soundtrack for Pan's Labyrinth. Michael Giacchino's score for Super 8 isn't as technically impressive as John Williams', but I love the way it so closely illustrates what's happening on screen. If you closed your eyes, you could still probably understand what was happening.
The storytelling and pacing are also superb. Apparently, Spielberg and Abrams collaborated on the project, knocking ideas back and forth until they came out with this. I wish guys like Michael Bay and M. Night Shymalan would start doing this and get someone to edit their work. People in creative fields really need a sounding board if their art is for mass release, otherwise we get crap like Dark of the Moon or Last Airbender. Imagine if Last Airbender had been handled by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and J. J. Abrams.
Super 8 really is a great film that really brings you back to a time when filmmakers didn't bludgeon their audiences to death with squibs, car chases, and computer generated effects. If it's still showing where you are, I strongly recommend seeing it in theaters. If it's not, pick up the DVD as soon as it comes out.
I know I will.