Posted by: David Stewart | June 21, 2011

Super 8 and the Spielberg of our time

Why does the new movie Super 8 resonate so strongly with viewers?

  • The "Amblin Entertainment" logo which lingers before the first shot not only indicates Steven Spielberg’s involvement as producer, it reminds viewers of a particular age of another summer movie about kids experiencing something amazing, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial.
  • ET in its day (1982) cast its tale in a magical glow full of wonder and neatly excludes adults in anything other than cardboard cutouts.
  • Super 8 advances the age of the kids to the ‘tween-age transitions of middle school, embroiled in ongoing crises of identity, relationship to parents and adults, and most spooky, the opposite gender.
  • As with the archetypal storytellers of our age, the kids in Super 8 are making their own movie, using the eponymous super 8 film equipment common in 1979 when the story takes place. I fondly remember shooting super 8 movies in a film class in 7th grade in 1973, but these kids are leagues beyond what I did back then.
  • When the kids film a scene of their movie in front of a speeding train for "production values", they get a lot more than they bargain for. And therein lies the tale.
  • JJ Abrams as director has toned down his signature scenes of sweeping emotion with the dialog muted and swelling strings. Instead he fills the frame with swooping crane shots (Spielberg’s visual signature) and with his over-the-top lens flair and artificial camera shake that he used in 2009’s Star Trek, a superior film in many ways.
  • In 1979, Abrams himself would have been the same age as these kids, so it’s a way for him to tell a tale about his own childhood. That’s a bit self-serving, but brings some authenticity to the story.
  • Technique aside, Abrams has really grown his palate of storytelling tools – whether it is a very subtle eye twitch when something painful is touched or the conversational sound of a group of middle school friends that rings spot on.
  • Kyle Chandler (of Early Edition and Friday Night Lights) does a solid job portraying the dad who wants to do right with his son, but is embroiled in his own complex emotions.

Will Super 8 be as ground-breaking as ET was? That certainly seems to be what Abrams and Spielberg are shooting for. I want to believe it could be too; make up your own mind.

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