From the very beginning of JJ Abrams’ latest film, “Super 8” you are instantly overwhelmed with a terrific sense and feel of the 1970s. The music soundtrack is simply sensational; loaded with so many classic tunes of the era one would almost think this was a Cameron Crowe film. And the wardrobe and production design are just as impressive, never once giving the impression of being anything less than organic. With such genuine surroundings the film does not in the least feel like a period piece, but rather like a film conceived and produced in that culturally precarious time between 1975 and ‘85, just like all the films it seems to be so obviously emulating.
For anyone who is old enough to have experienced the arrival of the first ordained summer blockbuster, “Jaws” (directed by Steven Spielberg) and then have seen for the first time in theaters “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (also directed by Spielberg), “E.T.” (once again, directed by Spielberg), “Poltergeist” (produced and written by Spielberg) and “Goonies” (produced and written by Spielberg), this film will provide a tremendous feeling of nostalgia.
The look and feel of the picture is very Spielberg-ian, with a tremendous use of lens flare and extreme close ups (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Poltergeist”). The story keeps you in suspense wondering just what the creature looks like (“Jaws”, “E.T.”). The world in which we are placed is set in a small isolated town (“Jaws”, “Goonies”), in a neighborhood sprawling with look-a-like houses (“E.T.”, “Poltergeist”), with a bunch of kids on a secret search (“E.T.”, “Goonies”) the government is trying to prevent them from accomplishing (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “E.T.”).
This constant sense of being in another time watching an earlier film by an iconic filmmaker is in no way a bad thing. It’s pretty damn smart actually. By evoking the memories of previous movie watching experiences the audience can’t help but feel as if they are experiencing the same sensations all over again. I did. And as for younger moviegoers who have never seen the early works of the man who is quite possibly the greatest living American film auteur, they’re just going to like “Super 8” for what it is: a terrific summer movie. But one they’re likely to forget about the second they leave the theater. For without the background and history of the older viewer sitting next to them, “Super 8” is not likely to have any sticking power with the younger theater patron.
In fact, “Super 8” hardly had any sticking power with me, let alone the other people with whom I saw it. We left the theater feeling pretty pumped up and shared an overall high level of satisfaction with the film. But we hadn’t gotten very far when we realized we weren’t talking about it any more, mostly because there wasn’t much more to say. “Super 8” is great fun and exactly what a summer film should be, but would we see it again? The answer is not very likely. Will it become one of the all time classic summer blockbusters? Absolutely not. But then again, who cares? If you want to have a good time in a theater this summer you can count on “Super 8”. Just don’t expect too much from it and you’ll be satisfied. After all, it’s not the 1970s. “Super 8” has the distinct disadvantage of having been made in the age of big budgets and computer generated special effects. Let’s not hold that against it.