This is not a not a 'nostalgic triumph' as some reviewers have said. It’s a triumph. But it’s realistic, not nostalgic.
I’ll tell you why.
For ages Hollywood has created this delusionary world of childhood which is one extreme or the other. My secondary education was nothing like High School Musical. But my summer holidays were like Super 8 (except minus the alien and whole-scale destruction of my home town – which wouldn't have been a bad planning choice)
What I mean is, I’m sick of seeing perfect kids on screen, speaking in snappy one-liners, going home to their parents who are only 10 years older than them.
So the casting of Super 8 is genius. They’re real, rounded and believable characters, who speak like kids, act like kids (the scene in the diner has dialogue even Oscar winners couldn’t keep pace with).
I could relate to this version of childhood. I remember having a tiny, messy bedroom full of homemade toys and artwork; cycling everywhere; hanging out with best friends playing mindless games in the park with the other neighbourhood kids. There were fat kids, and kids with giant dental braces and kids who liked to blow stuff up, because that’s what kids are like. Even the 'it' kids were low-key social heros - popular because they had their own climbing frame, not because they looked like models.
It made me feel really grateful that I stubbornly didn’t want to ‘grow up’ and how lucky I was to have the freedom to disappear every day during the summer holidays without having to call home on my iphone every 10 minutes to reassure parents who read that a paedo was on the loose from a Daily Mail twitter. Well, at least this is what I assume modern parenting is like (I read it on the Daily Mail). The parents in this film aren’t around (literally for ‘Joe’ and ‘Alice’) but life is not dysfunctional.
So many films present an aspiration to kids to act older than they are. What a shame. Kids need to be free-range, to see that mucking about on meagre pocket money with DIY projects can be so much more fun than anything you can buy.
Maybe this ‘nostalgic’ snapshot (helped by the deliberately celluloid, 70s sepia-colour filter throughout) will reawaken a backlash against mindless consumerism. I overheard a commentator on radio 4 observe that children’s TV shows in the 80s showed you how to make your own entertainment out of egg cartons, loo rolls and a bit of imagination. By contrast, modern day MTV is full of a world of unachievable glitz. No wonder people think this is nostalgic. People have forgotten how to make your own fun – and I’m not talking about anything romantic.
But that leads me onto another good point. How sweet, honest and heart-felt the ‘romance’ between Joe and Alice is. How easy could it have been to end up with big kiss like the usually Hollywood tosh (usually accompanied by starlight, all the bullies from high school watching, and an epic soundtrack, maybe even flying involved – see Twilight for reference). No. This is so sweet. They hold hands and you know everything will be okay.
• Another film which manages to successfully mix CGI with real world sets (see Inception).
• This film is mirrored by the ‘play within a play’ (not that Abrahams is Shakespeare) which ‘Charlie’ makes (wait for the end credits) - it has every genre neatly covered (crime, spy, action, war, buddy, coming of age, romance, family drama and not forgetting the big one, sci-fi) spliced with great dialogue, inspired special effects, and moments of genuine pathos and triumph. Well, maybe that’s a bit rich. It’s 3 minutes long, but I still enjoyed it.
• As with any sci-fi monster/ alien films, I always think it is better if you don’t actually see the big scary beast. I think my imagination is better than any graphic animator’s. I was hoping, like the first two-thirds of the film, this might have remained as sneaky scary snippets. But no, he’s got to look it in the eye at the end so we realise ‘who’s the real monster’ and thus learn the lesson. Sigh. Still it wasn’t as bad as the pixelated mess they created for Cloverfield.
• I thought I heard composer Michael Giacchino mix in a few ‘Jon Williams’ ET-style musical moments.
5 out of 5 – simply super.