Super 8 is a film that is rich with many layers of depth. It is a love-letter to the inspiration of making movies and provides a lot of heart to match. After seeing the film, I ordered the score, composed by Michael Giacchino. Giacchino has worked with Super 8 director J.J. Abrams on every project since Alias.
Having seen the film three times, each time getting something new out of the movie, I found the music and characters began to resonate with me more and more. Perhaps it’s because my childhood was somewhat similar, but for whatever reason, the themes that the film contained touched me.
The music, masterfully composed by Giacchino, is both reminiscent of the music of John Williams and entirely original. The first time you hear the music in the film is with the studio logos, before the movie even begins, and I can remember feeling that music already transporting me back to my childhood.
It is then that the film begins, with a loss that hangs over the whole film: an accident at a plant that takes the life of Joe Lamb’s mother. It is this beat that sets up the emotional journey of Joe, as he sets off through the summer, trying to be a kid while also trying to deal with the loss of his mother and a father that doesn’t know how to be there for him. Joe holds tightly to a locket that had belonged to his mother and finds it difficult to move on. He finds himself on a journey of discovery as an alien is loose in his small town. The culmination of his journey is in the moment that he confronts the alien face to face.
“Bad things happen,” he says, “but you can still live.”
He is speaking to himself just as much as to the alien. He’s lost his mother, and has had this amazing adventure while helping his friend to work on a movie. It is this moment that he knows that life can still move on after you’ve lost someone. When you lose someone, sometimes it seems like it isn’t fair to still be alive without them, to live your life. This leads to the final letting go, as Joe knows his mother will always be with him, but he is able to let go of her locket, letting her move on. He then takes the hand of Alice Dainard, a simple gesture that tells us a couple of things. He’s ready to really live and his life has a direction after the credits roll.
The film also brings about the innocence of childhood in the way that the children interact with their parents and with one another. The kids in the film are all very real personalities and were perfectly cast. While each one may display one stereotype or another, that really reflects real life for a lot of us. The kids each display distinct personalities and traits and these are definitely kids that would have hung out with each other. They definitely swore more than my friends and I did (rarely, if ever), but they were also dealing with their lives being turned upside down.
While all of this was happening, one of the characters was working very hard on a short film, speaking highly of production values. These are kids that are making a movie for the shear love of creating something for yourself and others to enjoy. Writer / director J.J. Abrams, producer Steven Spielberg and composer Michael Giacchino all created films when they were children, and this film was a way for them to celebrate that childhood hobby.
The film also features the journey of Joe’s father Jackson, as he deals with the loss of his wife and the need to be a father on his own while also taking care of the town as the Deputy during this crisis. In the end, when he says the line “I got you” he isn’t saying it because he feels that he’s rescued his son. He hasn’t done that, so that would be illogical. He says it because he finally gets his son. He doesn’t yet know the extent of the adventure that his son has been on, but that doesn’t matter now. He knows that his son had been at the school, he knows that Alice Dainard had been taken by the alien, and he saw them both together. It is obvious to him that his son had something to do with her rescue. But now he understands his son’s need for him to be there for him. He understands and has also learned something from his son – that bad things happen, but you can still live.
In Super 8, J.J. Abrams has captured the footprints of real characters dealing with supernatural situations, and has managed to give the audience stories to focus on that keep the film grounded in ways that we may not perceive at first, but bring more depth the more that you look.
Abrams actually mentioned something during a talk he gave at TED back in 2007, that the film E.T. was actually about a family that was going through the loss of their father, in much the same way that Super 8 touches on the similar theme, with the loss of a mother.
I highly recommend Super 8, and I wonder what you will learn from it. I hope that it effects you in the same way that it effected me. I also hope that this film isn’t just a final farewell to films like this, but the beginning of another renaissance of films shot in the old Amblin style. But if it is, there could be no better sendoff than to end where it really seemed to begin – a hopeful look upward, toward the open sky.
It might not be the best written piece I’ve done, but in trying to capture my thoughts for this movie, words escaped me. There are so many themes to talk about, and so many thoughts, that to capture them all, I would need to write a short novel.