14 May 2012

Super Trooper

Nostalgia is a drug that turns the past into a dream. This world is a shitty place to live but thanks to that rose-tinted antidepressant, we remember things a little bit better than they where. In all honesty I think we can credit it for being the sole reason that people from the 1980's haven't committed suicide yet. If Margaret Thatcher’s reign of terror wasn't enough to be ashamed about there was also AIDs, racist skin-heads and worst of all nobody trimmed their pubes. It was a decade in which John Lennon was shot dead and yet human-gremlin Chris De Burgh was allowed to warble his nauseating cries in a shockingly bullet free environment. However, as well as being a sort of self-prescribed Lithium, nostalgia is also one of the main ingredients in plenty of films. One movie that relied heavily on it that I happen to have recently seen is J.J. Abram's monster movie Super 8.

Super 8 starts in a warm suburban area during the 1970's as a gang of pre-pubescent kids plan to make a short film. These days they'd just record themselves happy slapping and then stick it on Facebook, but this gang have instead bizarrely decided to make something with a story and zombies. As a scene is to be shot at a railway station in the middle of the night, the kids sneak out one evening to get the footage and without telling their parents. Thankfully, the 70's were a time in which paedophiles didn't exist and so the only thing the kids have to worry about is a train being de-railed and an alien escaping from one of the carriages. Unfortunately for our young Ed Woods, this is exactly what happens with the entire crash being captured on their camera.

After that night the kids make the decision to keep the incident to themselves. Partly because they believe they'll get into trouble, partly because the man who caused the crash waved a gun at them and partly because the army is looking to kill any witnesses. Despite this threat however the kids instead decide, “fuck it, let's finish the film”. They grab their parents’ porno camera and continue filming their amateur zombie flick. At this point too, the Alien starts acting like a proper fucking scallywag by playing silly buggers with the locals dogs and stealing car engines. It's basically a thieving Winona Ryder but with six arms and scales.

As I mentioned, the movie relies heavily on nostalgia. Nostalgia for the 70's and nostalgia for the childhood that we all wish we'd had. The decade is lovingly recreated with old cars, disco music and not a mention of the Bond movie Moonraker. I don't care how bad Idi Amin's dictatorship got, it can't have been worse than watching a bird do a double take as Roger Moore rides a boat through the streets of Venice…

In regards to childhood, this movie takes the Stand By Me approach. It shows being young as such an independent, adventurous time that I wish I'd occasionally ventured into the mythical land of ‘outdoors’ and gone exploring myself. In reality I would go out occasionally but only if my Mum had spitefully hidden the Nintendo hand-controller. The closest I got to a nostalgic childhood adventure was watching a young girl from my road doing a shit under a slide. She told me it was “our secret and if anybody asks we should say it was a dog”. I informed her that as far as I was concerned, “it was done by a dog” and we never played out together again. Hardly the fucking Goonies was it?

Abrams has made no secret of the fact that this film is a love letter to the works of Steven Spielberg. As such it contains elements of everything from Close Encounters, E.T., Jaws and even Jurassic Park. It's kind of an odd film in that way as by being intentionally derivative of Spielberg it contains everything that is great about his films but in a way that is not quite as good. It's the equivalent of somebody now going around Whitechapel to chop up some whores but wearing a Jack the Ripper costume. On the one hand you can see the loving references to everything you enjoyed the first time round but on the other you can't help but wish that it was a little more original. Maybe instead of boiling their organs he could deep fry them or eat them with a Pot Noodle? The point is you can't do better than the things you're replicating so rather than carbon-copying them, why not do something a little different? If it was me I'd probably stick the whore’s heart in the microwave and then have it with a cup of tea and some chocolate hobnobs. But that's just me...

The other problem with Super 8 is that you don't see the alien for the majority of the film. Generally that's not a problem as in the case of 2010's Monsters. In that film, the beasts were just slime-ing around in the background doing their best to avoid the plot. Here though the creature is sort of forgotten about and then returns as the centre piece of the movie. The only problem is that by the time he comes back I've already lost interest in him. It's a little bit like having a respectable dinner party and just before dessert, Mr. Blobby runs in, smashes the place up and has a wank. It's not that we don't like Mr. Blobby but rather that things were going really rather well until he ruined it by spraying the post-meal trifle with his presumably pink spunk.

I guess the issue is that the film is composed of two genres. Half of it is a sci-fi movie and the other a coming of age drama, however by being so character heavy, it's the latter aspect that works the best. A relationship starts to blossom between two of the kids however they conclude the film by going alien hunting. A more natural progression of their story arch would obviously be a disastrous attempt at finger banging each other followed by estrangement and then probably suicide. With its Stand By Me cast of kids trying to make a movie- one of the films that this closely resembles is Garth Jennings Son Of Rambow. Super 8's last act becoming The Goonies from Space is a little bit like if Stallone had turned up as Rambo in that other film, slit the two kids’ throats and then skinned them. Obviously Stallone murdering two children in order to wrap up a family movie would be a disastrous decision. He's an awful actor and would no doubt ruin it with his post-stroke, gorilla grunting.

Despite that, in my humble opinion, Super 8 is still a really good film. If you want to celebrate everything that is great about Spielberg without watching any of his work then this is the DVD for you. I'll definitely be watching it again simply because of how much I enjoyed the company of those characters. They were brilliantly acted, realistically written and for kids, they were unrealistically likeable. Where child actors are generally concerned I think most people start praying their film’s plot is about to incorporate infanticide. Even as a kid, my thoughts when seeing the young Anakin were, “what an irritating twat”.

There's only one point in which the Sci-fi and the “coming of age” combine and that's in the magnetic jewellery conclusion. I know it's the sweet music and the manipulatively sentimental imagery, but fuck it- I enjoyed that too! Perhaps this film is in too much of a debt to Spielberg but at least it's not a franchise. In a land of sequels, prequels and remakes, anything even close to new should be celebrated. It's made by a phenomenal film-maker who will do even better when one day working with his own material. One of the best things about Spielberg’s films is the fact that they're clearly made by a man full of love. Like the boiling pot in Jack the Rippers final murder, plenty of heart is definitely what this film contains. If anybody deserves a nostalgic letter of admiration for their work then one to Spielberg from JJ Abrams is the one I want to see. Having said that, one to Ken Loach from Michael Bay might be fun too. Who wouldn't pay to see the bird explode at the end of Kes 2: Revenge of the Fallen.

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