"They don’t make ‘em like they used to".
That’s a phrase I’ve heard myself mutter more and more over the years, as I wallow in the nostalgic glow of films which to me are still fresh and relatively "new" i.e. they were made and released within my life span, or at least the second half of it.
Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s just me getting started on some "grumpy old man muttering" soon to be followed with a hearty "get off my lawn, damn kids".
But last night, I saw a movie so unexpectedly great on each and every level, that maybe they still DO make ‘em like they used to.
Super 8 is a film that intrigued me for the mere fact that it’s been a masterpiece of old school movie making showmanship right from its trailer. No give-aways, no spoilers - the trailer consisted of a spectacular train wreck at night and something mysterious escaping from one of the carriages. No idea who, what or why. The thumping of presumably a fist from behind the armoured steel door until it gives way reminded me a lot of the opening panels to the Death of Superman graphic novel, as Doomsday relentlessly punches his way free of his prison.
I’ve seen this trailer ahead of every movie I’ve seen this summer, and every time I’ve marvelled at the way it conveys mood and menace, yet showed nothing that gave the game away. Each viewing has made me more and more curious and eager to watch the film. I’ve kept away from all internet spoilers and reviews, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do and managed to arrive at the cinema completely unaware of what was about to unspool.
Okay, there was one teeny, tiny little bit of baggage that came with me to the cinema. J.J.Abrams, the writer director. Abrams to me is a director who blows hot and cold. I’ve seen and enjoyed his Alias TV series. I never watched Lost, and from what I’ve heard about its rambling incoherence and slow pace, I never will. I loved Mission: Impossible 3 but found Star Trek to be unforgivable.
Of all the directors in Hollywood to take the helm of Star Trek’s big screen reboot, that had to go with someone who, by his own admission never cared for the original series. Why remake something to which you have no regard for the source material? The sweeping changes made to various back stories were just astounding and downright arrogant to the point of being offensive. But, that’s another rant for another time.
Apart from that - we were all good, all set to go. The bigger selling point to me here was that film was presumably a science fiction movie and Steven Spielberg was on board, albeit as a producer, but Spielberg, my favourite director since the late seventies, returning to sci-fi? No way would I ever miss THAT.
Very soon, as the film starts it becomes obvious that Spielberg has taken a hands-on role in the film. All of his trademarks are here. I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure whether he took the director’s chair for a few of the scenes as he is reputed to have done with Poltergeist (1982), but it sure seems like it. Nobody directs child/teen actors quite the way the beard does and it’s all here, particularly in the incredible performance of Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota Fanning. By any standard her ability as an actress singles her out, but considering that she’s only thirteen years of age - her talent is off the scale.
The year is 1979, and a gang of geeky high school kids in a small town in rural Ohio are spending their summer vacation making a zombie movie with a super 8 camera, hence the title. One night, as they film a sequence at a deserted railway station, they witness a spectacular train crash as a pickup truck mounts the rails and drives toward the speeding locomotive.
The crash is pure Spielberg, who has often quoted the first film he ever saw at the movies "The Greatest Show On Earth" directed by Cecil B. DeMille as THE defining moment of his life. The plot revolves around a travelling circus and there is a huge train crash in one of it’s most memorable scenes which Spielberg recounts often and lovingly. Well, if The Greatest Show on Earth had a spectacular train crash - Super 8 has the absolute mother of all train wrecks.
From the wreck escapes...something.... and havoc ensues.
To his credit, Abrams hardly ever shows the escaped creature and for well over half the film, we don’t see it at all, there’s always something between it and the audience, obscuring our view. Even at the moment of exposition, we barely get more than a glance at the whole thing.
I totally wallowed in nostalgia watching this - it brought back fond memories of the kinds of films I saw in the late seventies to the mid eighties. There are elements, of course, of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the sweeping overhead long shots of the town at night and the lonely workman driving along in the dark towards God knows what. But there are also strong influences of other films I love like the Goonies, Explorers and My Science Project (remember THAT one?). The look and feel of those films is so much in evidence, that within the first thirty minutes, I had decided that THIS was the summer blockbuster of the year for me and that J.J. Abrams had indeed earned my forgiveness for Star Trek.
There’s also a slice of another favourite of mine, It Came from Outer Space that I wasn't expecting, so there’s no real way that this movie could fail with me.
Definitely a day of release DVD purchase. I can’t wait to see it again.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.