There’s been a lot of buzz around Super 8. The movie directed by Lost creator JJ Abrams, supposed to be inspired by the works of 1980s vintage Spielberg, and produced by The Beard to boot. I’ve read several reviews of the movie–careful to avoid any real spoilers–and they’ve gone one of two ways: either people loved it, or they weren’t crazy about it. The interesting thing is that the opinions usually hinged on one thing: how well they felt the movie recreated that 1980s Spielberg vibe. I’ll get to that in a minute.
First off, my review. 3.5 stars. This movie got really close to perfect for me. Take the gang of kids from The Goonies (but make them more fully fleshed out as characters), add some family relationship drama ala ET, mix in a bit of monster on the loose mayhem by way of Cloverfield, a pinch of Close Encounters of the Third Kind mystery and zaniness, mix in a good helping of Stand By Me, and you end up with this movie. The kids do a fantastic acting job–they really sell the film. It’s also helped out by a great Michael Giacchino score. (Seriously, I wonder if the man is a rising star in my book. I’ve loved a lot of his stuff: particularly the score for Up.) The effects in the movie are a lot of fun, and they do what they should–spice the film perfectly, without replacing the actual content. The movie has a lot of effects, but it’s not about the effects. That’s an important distinction. Anyway–I don’t want to spoil this movie for you, so that’s about all you’re going to get out of me, content-wise.
But I’ve got some more thoughts on the subject of Abrams recapturing Spielberg. Some have criticized the movie for being too much like Spielberg. They say Abrams tries to imitate earlier films, but he falls short of the mark. This is a criticism that just doesn’t hold water for me. People are always comparing movies to earlier films, and–especially when the films are associated with a lot of nostalgia–the newer films always fall short. Age has a way of making a movie impregnable, as if a film gets a badge of honor, just for being older. This is especially true with genre movies and good blockbusters. The blockbusters of today are never as good as the blockbusters of twenty years ago.
Reviewers responding to a movie today that evokes movies from yesterday are comparing their experience today with their prolonged, twenty year relationship of yesterday. No movie can recapture the feeling I had when I saw Princess Bride or The Goonies for the first time. Not anymore. Why is that? Because I was a different person when I saw them. I hadn’t seen a fraction of the movies I’ve seen today. I didn’t have multiple degrees. I wasn’t a father. And to complicate matters more, The Princess Bride has had time to ascend in my estimation over the years. Repeat viewings, shared experiences. Films like that get an air about them–a sort of mystique that can’t be immediately replicated. The first time I watched Groundhog Day, I really liked it. But I didn’t have the same relation to it that I have today–the movie and I have evolved over the years, and my opinion of it has changed with it. Comparing a first viewing of a film with an opinion I have of a movie I love is like evaluating a first impression of a person by comparing them to how close I feel to a family member. Does that make sense?
Will kids who watch Super 8 today feel in twenty years what I feel for some of the 80s movies? Darned tootin’ they will. It’s a great movie. It captures adolescence and pins it down on celluloid, just like earlier movies have done. Was Super 8 as good as The Goonies? I believe it was. But I also realize I can’t really give an unbiased answer to that question.
And neither can any of the reviewers trying to put Super 8 down for its inability to duplicate that magic. Folks, the magic hasn’t changed–we have.