Episode 170: Close Encounters of the 8 Extra-Super Terrestrial Goonies

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We decided to stay on the J.J. Abrams train for another episode to cover his 2011 Spielberg homage, Super 8. Surprisingly, it’s not a derailed disaster like the train the film—but does it live up to the source material?

ALSO IN THIS EPISODE: We talk about Deep Space Nine in the first of our promised installments on the popular TNG spin-off.

I’d avoided Super 8 for three reasons. 1) J. 2) J. and 3) Abrams.

Which may or may not be fair. I was also under the impression general consensus was the film completely fall apart by the second act. But I thought Super 8 was actually pretty fantastic. I mean, given that there is less than a single original idea in the whole film.

It far surpasses homage to being a direct mash-up of producer Spielberg’s E.T., The Goonies and Close Encounters and Abrams’ own Cloverfield. If you wanted to be generous, you could use another French word, bricolage, to describe the creative process here. Basically the exact same approach that hampered Star Trek Into Darkness (not so much an homage to Wrath of Khan but a wholesale pillaging and re-purposing).

In Super 8 though, the approach works really well. Perhaps more so than any other film or TV endeavor Abrams has managed to tell a solid story with three-dimensional characters who act in a psychologically believable way, with a minimum of WTF plot points and continuity flaws (Why, oh why, did the truck carrying the white cubes come back into town?).

Perhaps Spielberg (not credited as a writer, though basically he should have been since he wrote pretty much all the source material) helped him out a lot more than was let on. I can’t remember what the criticisms leveled at the film were exactly, but I can’t help feel they must have been fueled by a post-Lost Abrams backlash. I can fully appreciate that, like I said, this is why I avoided it myself (Mandi avoided it because she thought it’d be all hand-held shaky-cam like in Cloverfield). A part of me even wanted to downright hate the film with a white-hot intensity.

But the negativity makes no sense if you watch the film objectively. Without the baggage Abrams’ name (and Spielberg’s for that matter) carries, the film is a solid coming-of-age-boy-and-his-alien-friends-sticking-together-flick (The most convoluted movie sub-genre ever?).

I’m willing to surrender to the inevitable complete lack of originality in the films of the upcoming decade (and beyond) if they’re made this well. 

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