A New Spielberg, by Abrams

SUPER 8 ****


Steven Spielberg has not so much anointed an heir as cloned himself in the person of J.J. Abrams, who has written and directed the hugely entertaining SUPER 8 not just in the style of a certain type of Spielberg movie (ET, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) but built literally around the same DNA: here we are in a Spielberg world, where young best friends ride their bikes on car-free streets from one family home to another; where kids are wiser than adults, adults are flawed, but very few of them are truly evil (except those who are, who shall get their comeuppance); where strange things happen and aliens exist. The stylistic templates of those classic Spielberg adventures are all here: the score (by Michael Giacchino) is so evocative of the kind John Williams has permeated Spielberg’s work with that I was convinced that Williams himself had scored the film (until the end credits set me straight); the framing, camera moves and cinematography are so familiar to us from those films that they can, at times, be exactly placed (there’s the crane shot from RAIDERS revealing what’s being carried out in the valley below! There’s the dolly in to the child’s face from ET as he looks at the cosmic event! There are the blue linear lens flares from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS!) The script, too, has so many Spielberg hallmarks (especially once you throw in Spielberg’s original story for THE GOONIES) that, given Spielberg was one of the producers on this film, you wonder why he just didn’t direct it himself. The answer, of course, is that he already has, at least three times; he doesn’t want to direct those early films again, but J.J. Abrams, who grew up on Spielberg films and admires his mentor greatly, obviously does, and thus we have a gift: a new Spielberg family movie just like the ones he made in the early eighties, that just happens to be the work of an acolyte. J.J. Abrams has succeeded mightily in his task. If SUPER 8 isn’t as moving as ET, as mysterious as CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, or as exciting as RAIDERS, it has heart, humour and sheer storytelling panache in spades. The acting is big-movie perfect, mainly from an enthusiastic and talented group of youngsters (including the truly astounding Elle Fanning, who was twelve when the movie was shot but plays fourteen); the 1970s steel-town atmosphere is beautifully realized without being obvious or overblown; the effects are first-rate and never superfluous. Most of all, it’s a warm and loving script in the big-Spielberg style, where every single scene propels the story forward in a vital way, where every physical detail in every scene tells a small story of its own, and where the magic of everyday life (being love) can co-exist with the magic of the otherworldly. It’s a young-love story with an alien, rather than the other way around, and as big-screen, mass-market, Friday night multiplex entertainment for all ages, it’s pretty faultless.

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