as hard as it might, but J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 simply doesn’t manage to
capture the wide-eyed innocence that made early Spielberg movies such as
E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind so special . . .
It isn’t only George Lucas who tinkers endlessly with
his own movies. When Steven Spielberg re-released an extended version of
E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial with new special
effects in 2002 he infamously digitally removed the handguns carried by
the feds chasing the children on their BMX bikes. Instead he made them
Why Spielberg bothered doing so is a bit of mystery.
Critics derided the move as “political correctness” gone mad at the time,
but the fact is that E.T. is such a good-natured movie that we in
the audience cannot for a moment imagine the feds actually using their
guns on the fleeing children.
The same goes for Spielberg’s earlier
Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In one
scene some civilians led by Richard Dreyfuss are gassed with sleeping gas
by government helicopters as part of a UFO cover-up. That was back in 1977
and 1982. One can’t imagine the authorities depicted in this year’s
Super 8 acting with the same restraint.
the Star Trek reboot) Abrams’
much-anticipated Super 8 project is ostensibly a homage to those
early Spielberg movies of the late ‘Seventies and early ‘Eighties which
featured kids living in Californian suburbs who have to cope with aliens
or ghosts. Think of the movies of your childhood such as E.T.,
Close Encounters, Poltergeist
and The Goonies and you get the general idea
of the cinematic inspiration behind Abrams’ film.
Whether you see Super 8 as a nostalgic homage or
unimaginative rip-off of those Spielberg movies is entirely up to you. But
the fact remains that Super 8 is a rather mean-spirited
retelling of the E.T. story.
Here’s the plot in short. [WARNING! Plot spoilers
ahead!] It is February 1979 and some kids living in American
suburbia witnesses a massive train crash. The train was transporting an
alien creature held captive by the U.S. government. Needless to say the
alien escapes and soon the kids’ town is overrun by secretive military
types led by a shady Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich) looking for the
Like E.T., the monster in
Super 8 only wants to go
home. However it has unfortunately been traumatized by the cruel
experiments performed on it by the government and spends most of the
picture in “a shadowy, destructive rage” as scifimoviepage.com reviewer
Brian Orndorf puts it.
"What would have happened if those feds did send E.T. off
to Guantanamo Bay for a couple of years . . ."
Think of the creature as what would have happened if
those feds DID manage to get a hold of E.T. and sent him (it?) off to
Guantanamo Bay for a couple of years. Oh, and imagine that E.T. was a
whole lot bigger and had more in common with H.R. Giger’s slimy creations
for Alien rather
than Carlo Rambaldi’s most famous design. In one scene we see the Super
8 alien attack and kill its former tormentors. In another it kidnaps
some townspeople including the town sheriff to keep them in its
underground lair for food (one supposes). How the times have changed!
Nelec isn’t exactly the good-natured character portrayed
by French director Francois Traffaut in Spielberg’s
Close Encounters either. In one scene one
of his agents administers poison to an uncooperative bed-ridden prisoner.
Later on he bamboozles the town’s deputy sheriff and places him under
military arrest. When Nelec arrests the kids who witnessed the accident
they are convinced that they are going to be killed . . . and unlike as in
E.T. we also believe that Nelec is capable of it! [End plot
What does all of this mean? One of two things, namely
(a) film-makers such as J.J. Abrams believe that today’s
audiences are more desensitized than those of 1977 and 1982, that
audiences need more bang for their buck as it were and simply won’t be
satisfied after countless
X-Files seasons by shadowy government helicopters simply sleep-gassing
nosy civilians. One suspects that if J.J. Abrams were ever to remake
Close Encounters he’d have those helicopters napalming the civilians
and have Roy Neary outrun a flaming fireball!
(b) in the wake of revelations about human rights
violations and state-sponsored torture at Guantanamo Bay, the American
public – or at least Hollywood who makes all these movies – are ready to
believe the worst about their own government. Or maybe it’s just the
lingering economic recession talking.
The fact remains however that
Super 8 is too much a product of its own time to capture the wide-eyed
innocence of those early Spielberg efforts, which feature that rarity in
celluloid science fiction, namely the benign alien. Since then we have all
come to believe that the aliens will be just as vindictive as we are . . .
(Note: Later on Spielberg came to regret his decision
about removing the feds’ handguns. In a June 2011 interview he said that
there’s going to be “no more digital enhancements or digital additions to
anything based on any film I direct . . . When people ask me which E.T.
they should look at, I always tell them to look at the original 1982