Channeling Spielberg: J.J. Abrams Salutes Kid-Friendly Alien in Super 8

By , Columnist

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

"The weird thing about Super 8 is that it was not intended to be an homage to Steven Spielberg," J.J. Abrams tells The Morton Report.  

And that is kind of weird, because the film brims with Spielberg-erisms: Adorable children. (Mostly) benign alien. Idyllic  small town life. Super 8 serves up a Norman Rockwellian vision of aliens in America that Spielberg fostered three decades ago with his iconic productions of  E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Borrow a dollop of goofy humor from the Spielberg-produced Goonies, add the kind of coming of age theatrics mastered in Stephen King's Stand By Me, and you've got a summer sci-fi movie that gains in charm what it may lack in unfettered originality. 

Set in 1979 and filmed in Weirton, West Virginia near the Ohio River, Super 8 follows the adventures of four plucky 13-year-olds who spend their summer vacation shooting a homemade zombie movie. Abrams says, "I was inspired by the autobiographical idea of revisiting this time in my life in the late '70s and early '80s when I made Super 8 films. That period of time is inextricably connected to the movies by Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment. Those films were massively impactful on me."

While a monster on the loose triggers the movie's big set pieces, it's the beguiling young actors - Gabriel Basso,  Ryan Lee, Joel Courtney, and Riley Griffiths, along Dakota Fanning's excellent younger sister Elle - who lend the action an appealing point of view. Abrams says, "Steven gave me help along the way especially in dealing with kid actors, whom I've never worked with. He was my hero as a kid, and now he's also my friend. It was an amazing experience."

Abrams manages to absorb his mentor's signature effects into a relatively gentle, family-friendly entertainment that essentially says, "Damn the nostalgia, full speed ahead." 

Super 8, rated PG-13, opens Friday.

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Los Angeles-based writer/musician Hugh Hart covers movies, television, design, art and miscellaneous slices of pop culture for publications including Wired Magazine, Los Angeles Times and New York Times. When he's not interviewing people like Quentin Tarantino or Lindsay Lohan, Hugh likes to glug blackā€¦

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