For the first time since E.T., the trailer for Super 8 had me so intrigued because it showed so much of nothing that happens in the film, shrouding the plot in mystery. I felt the allure of theater-going returning and had to get to the cinema to see it.
Now, this movie may have J.J. Abrams’ name all over it as director and writer, but this is straight-up mid-80s Steven Spielberg movie magic all the way. The movie is SET in the 80s, for Spielberg’s-sake! He has to have had some serious input. It’s cheesy cute, it’s kinda scary, it’s a visual stunner…and it’s told from the perspective of children.
Even so, the film does an excellent job of not getting watered down into PG territory. This one is actually rather dark with some gruesome deaths, despite having a sort of “family-friendly” feel to it. It’s kind of like Stephen King’s It –lite.
I went into the movie blind—just like we all did back in 82 when we had no idea who the hell E.T. was, what he looked like, or what Neil Diamond was babbling about when he sang of a “Heartlight.” All I knew about Super 8 was that a group of kids making a zombie movie sees something spectacular/shocking. That’s IT. And that’s all you really should know. With so little knowledge, and completely trusting the promise of an entertainment experience of Spielberg-proportions (thanks to his appearance a few weeks ago on the MTV Movie Awards promoting the film), I actually got my money’s worth. It was fun, it was non-stop, it kept you wondering, it had you laughing, it had you jumping, and it had you rolling your eyes with its occasional meltdown into 80s sap.
Sure the film is loaded with plot holes and some ridiculous moments. I mean, when the town is evacuated (oh please. That’s not a spoiler. The town is always fricking evacuated in 80s movies), the kids just pile onto the next bus leaving town, without any concern about checking in to find their parents. In fact, most of the parents in the film are absentee—only the fathers of the two lead characters play an important part in the film. Then again, back in the 80s, parents really did let their kids go off and do their own thing all day without a second thought. No really. They did. But of course, we all just wanted to stay at home in front of our television with an Atari joystick in hand.
So yeah. The film is set in the 80s. Like 1980. I think it claims to be set in 79. But that would be WRONG. Sure, late 70s references abound, including posters for Dawn of the Dead and Halloween, as well as songs like “Heart of Glass” by Blondie, “My Sharona” by the Knack, and “Bye Bye Love” by The Cars. However, one of the kids mentions Rubik’s Cube and one kid gives a mini-infomercial on the Walkman, so essentially, the film takes place in 1980. A shame there’s no mention of The Empire Strikes Back, Xanadu, and Fame.
The 1980 time frame is crucial not only to the film’s plot, but in revealing just WHY most “scary” movies aren’t as effective as those made in the 80s. Progress. When the most advanced technology kids have on them is a portable cassette player, dangerous situations are much scarier. It’s painful watching modern filmmakers trying to force a sense of isolation and fear of the unknown into films while everyone is running around with cell phones and the information highway at their fingertips—unless, of course, the evil is transmitting from the cell phone towers or surfing the world wide web to get to you.
Super 8 makes it very obvious that the cutoff date for awesome suspenseful theatrical experiences was the 1980s. So glad the filmmakers realized what I’ve known all along. Here’s hoping every scary movie going forward is set in 1980….