In many ways, Super 8 is very much right in being touted as the new ET.
It is the film that Spielberg could not make because he could never figure out how to do a sequel.
Although set during the same time period of the late 1970s, in many ways, this is much more modern versions of ET, and if there is any doubt about that, all you have to do is see the scene in which Joe and the Alien are staring at each other, and go back to the ending scenes in ET to see ET looking at Eliot, and doubt no more.
But this is a film that changes the story line, a tale of what might have happened if the guys with the keys and the off-road vehicles got to ET before Elliot did, holding the poor creature hostage, torturing him with their tests.
Super 8 is full of ironic twists.
In ET, for instance, Elliot symbolically rescued ET when he liberated the frogs from dissection in the biology class. In Super 8, we get a guilt-ridden biology teacher attempting to rescue the alien, after he – the AP biology teacher – tracks down the route the military will use to transport the alien to a new location.
Like ET, all the Alien wants to do is fix up his space ship and go home. Unlike ET, Super 8’s alien has a grudge to settle, and in some ways, resembles the War of the World aliens since this alien also feeds on humans, hanging them upside down in his cave like a spider might.
But the whole film Super 8 has been loaded down with images and details from ET that make it impossible not get an echo effect, especially in the concluding scenes where these build up to lend evidence to Joe as a symbolic Elliot and the new monster a frustrated grown up ET, capable of violence.
Some of these are small things such as the fact that Elliot’s brother did not yet have his driver’s licence and had only driven his family car to the end of the driveway until forced to drive the vehicle in helping ET escape at the end.
Alice, the love interest in Super 8, also drives without a license, driving her father’s vehicle to transport the super 8 film crew to the train station at a critical time – just before the train crash that brings them in contact with the alien and the secret troops.
As in ET (as well as Close Encounters) the TV becomes a vehicle for communicating vital information and instruction.
Even pizza plays a strange role in connecting the films. Elliott spoils the pizza when he first meets ET, Joe is deprived a pizza when one of his father’s workmates eats the last two pieces.
Both films are drenched in food imagery, which is strangely connected with death – the character Charlie never stops eating, even at Joe’s mother’s wake or when they are fleeing the military in an attempt to find the lair of the alien later in the film.
Both aliens are building some means of rescuing themselves, ET a communication device that will call for his parents to pick him up, the alien in Super 8 is seeking to rebuild his space ship.
Remarkably, both are stealing a host of materials – although Super 8’s alien is doing so on a whole sale level, although it is unclear as to whether he is trying to use the microwaves, car engines and other items as substitute pieces for the parts the military is keeping from him.
With the exception of War of the Worlds, most Spielberg related films have a dog in them, and this film like ET, has a dog the main character is supposed to be taking care of, but which flees when the alien comes into the neighborhood.
Joe like Elliot has only one slightly unattentive parent. Elliot’s mother is getting over a recent break up with his father, Joe’s father is getting over the death of his wife.
In both films, the military – once the alien is on the loose – is in a constant search, traveling around, searching for clues as to where the aliens went.
At one point, Charles makes reference to ET by saying he’s nervous about the use of walkie talkies saying, “They might be listening in,” as “they” were in ET, and as in ET, the military are everywhere using gieger counter to track down the alien.
While the kids in Super 8 tend to borrow rides from other people, they also use bicycles in a similar manner as in ET, although we don’t get any flying scenes in the new film, but in one chase scene, Alice is pursued by her father after a fight, and is abducted by the alien, leaving her father in a panic to find her, only no one will believe his tale.
While Zombies don’t figure prominently in ET, we get a few during the Halloween scene as ET peers out of ghost outfit as the passing trick-or-treaters. In Super 8, most of the adults and some of the children live Zombie-like lives, blind to each other, something of a reflection of the adults in ET, who do not understand and cannot see the amazing things going on in their lives.
Kids – especially in Charlie’s family – seem to be out of control (similar to the kids in Close Encounters, but also in ET.
When Elliot vanishes after ET gets sick in the forest, his mother calls the cops – we get a similar scene in Super 8 when a mother is looking for her daughter who disappeared while wearing rollers, although we also have the fathers of Joe and Alice in pursuit of their missing children.
While many of these references are designed to evoke a similar feeling of the 1970s Spielberg films, they are also part of a theme, deliberately included as metaphor to evoke a subtext we are not supposed to consciously be aware of, but becoming something filtering into us in the back of our heads.
It is no accident that the alien in Super 8 burrows in the graveyard, since this is a film about death, and cheating death, and the need to move on, just as ET was about dying and rebirth. The zombie theme is perfect since many of the main characters in mourning lost love one have become zombie-like, and this as with ET is a film about redemption and the process of letting go of sadness and pain so that the characters can get on with their lives.
As in the lines given to Alice to read at the train station, people have a choice, and this film as in ET, it takes an alien to make us realize our humanity.