Some people claim you can’t go back in time, can’t regain the same snese of innocence you had when you were young. the new Spielberg film, Super 8, disputes that theory, recapturing some of the magic his films had during the 1970s, yet managing to continuing themes his films have routinely explored ever since.
Set in 1979, Super 8 is something of a cross between ET and Close Encounters, with dashes of other Spielberg films thrown in for flavor.
What we get is an extremely hostile alien, but one that is misunderstood and reacts to human aggression.
The real villain in this film are the human scientists and military people (if they really are military) who are even more ruthless than the ones that populated the original ET in 1980 – though in many ways the situation is similar, as the main character, Joe, develops by the end of the film a close relationship many others lack.
ET, the film, was created in an era of extreme mistrust for government and authority, or for adults in general, and kids, although often slightly out of control, are more pure and have a better sense of truth and fairness than adults have.
Two decades later when Spielberg re-released ET, he had a change of heart and edited out some of the harsher elements such as replacing the guns some of the adults carried with flashlights. Now, a mere decade later and a new era of mistrust for government begun, the guns are back with a vengeance.
The military – if that’s what it is – becomes once more the evil entity post Vietnam War era saw it as, conspiring as in ET to experiment and hold capital the alien that Elliott and his friends managed to help escape in ET.
As in ET, the film opens on a broken family – actually more than one.
Joe’s mother, Elizabeth, dies in a tragic accident in steel plant.
As it turned out, the man, Louis Dainard, she filled in for got too drunk to work that day, and so died in the accident he might have perished in. The film opens at the factory the day after the accident and the sign being changed detailing how many days it has been from the last accident.
We then go to the house where friends and neighbors come to help the Jackson and his son Joe recover from the loss.
Although there is some speculation among some of those who attended that Jackson isn’t up to the task of being a father, since he hasn’t lived up to the role prior to this, while others believe he will learn.
“He doesn’t know anything about the boy,” one woman says.
Joe’s friends – in particular Charles – gather in front of the buffet, where they bicker over food and the faith of Joe’s mother, whether or not the body would be in an open casket after being crushed by a steel beam.
Charles, the director and writer of the super 8 film, believes that Joe won’t want to continue helping him make the film – since the film is about zombies, who are living dead.
This becomes one of the symbolic centers of the film, the concept of letting things go. ET was much less specific, although the parallels between the two films are strong.
Joe is not with his friends, but outside the snowy yard on a swing, thoughtfully mourning the passing of his mother. So he is there when Louis rolls up in his muscle car and goes into the house where Jackson – the sheriff’s deputy of the town – drags him out, and puts him in the back of the police car, driving him away from the scene.
Although Elisabeth, when still alive, felt sorry for Louis – whose wife had left him to raise a daughter, Alice alone, Jackson had no sympathy for the man, calling him irresponsible. Indeed, a number of people thought ill of Louis. One car dealer even suspected him of stealing the engines out of his cars later in the film.
Joe seems very distant from his father, and clings to a locket that his mother had worn right up to her death, a locket that will become yet one more symbol in the film for letting go of bad memories in exchange for getting on with life.
This scene, of course, sets up a new dynamic, since Joe will eventually come to love Alice, in a contemporary retelling of Romeo and Julliett, when Charles enlists Alice to play the love interest in his zombie film.
While Charles claims that he needs a love interest in the film to help develop a story line, in truth, Charles is using the film as an excuse to get close to Alice, and in a twist that even Shakespeare would admire, Joe falls for Alice instead, and worse, Alice falls for Joe.
This match sets up a future conflict between the fathers.
But at this point, something larger happens.
Complete with makeup kit, cameras, lights, the cast hitches a ride with Alice to the train station where they set up to shoot a good bye scene between the reporter character and his wife, played by Alice.
Charles seeing an opportunity to use the approaching train as a backdrop to his film, begins shooting only to have a pick up truck rush onto the tracks and cause the train to derail in a monstrous disaster scene – which the cast of the tiny movie are in the middle.
This is no mere train, however, but a military transport that is taking a live space alien and the pieces of his space ship across country. The film does not explain why the alien needed to be move since it is clear from later revelations that the creature had been in captivity since the early 1960s and the government – along with their biology teacher at the time a member of the project – did extensive experiments on the creature, something Elliott in ET feared most.
The driver of the pick up truck that caused the crash turns out to be this biology teacher, who was drummed out of the military after coming in contact with the alien and learning that all the alien wanted was to rebuild its ship and go home.
The teacher is still alive when the kids find him among the wreckage, but he warns them to leave and not talk about what they saw, claiming that the military will kill them otherwise. On cue, the military arrives and the kids, flee, Charles finds his camera had fallen and broken during the disaster, but they manage to get away before the soldiers arrive. But they left some clues behind such as the empty film package.
Although at one point before all this, Joe saw something strange with one of the box cars, the kids do not know until they get the film developed that something else got loose from the train, and from the reaction of the military, it is something the military desperately wants back.
Joe also recovered from the site a small Rubic’s Cube like block, one of the building blocks for the alien’s space ship, which the military has kept the alien from reassembling.
Strange things start happening around the small town.
Dogs flee the area in every direction, so that at one point, we see a 9/11 like bulletin board of all the missing animals.
Then all sorts of other things go missing, such as car engines and appliance. The power fluxuates throughout the county. People complain about the missing items, one attack that causes the sheriff to go missing is blamed on a bear, another theft of 40 microwaves is blamed on the Russians.
People go missing, too.
Charles wants to finish his film, but his camera was broken at the train station, and the clerk at the film store – who has the hots for Charles’ sister (something that will prove useful later) tells him not to bother trying to fix the camera.
Joe agrees to lend him Jackson’s camera and they continue on making the film, now determined to use the backdrop of the train crash and the military search as material for the film.
Determined to put the genie back in the box, the military is not only searching for the creature, but also the biology teacher’s research – and appear to kill the biology teacher at one point when he won’t cooperate with them.
Made suspicious by the lack of information from the military and the apparent search underway in the community, Jackson stumbles into the middle of the plot – and is made prisoner.
It is hard to tell just how bad the military really is in this film, because the bad guy at one point when the alien finally attacks, make an effort to free the kids from the rear of a bus. Joe, of course, because the focus of the story early on, and become the hero of the story when Alice turns up missing, and using things he’d already seen, goes to rescue her – with the help of his friends.
In this rescue, he manages to connect with the alien, and in that exchange, comes to understand that they are all in pain, and that each of them needs to let go of some of it so that they can live their lives.
In a typically Spielberg ending, all are saved in their own ways, except, of course, for the truly evil characters, who naturally get their just deserts.