'Super 8': Maybe bringing back the 1980s is a good idea after all
For the last few years, as seemingly every third 1980s film has been put through the clanking gears of Hollywood's remake machine, many filmgoers have lamented the move away from original concepts. "Hollywood, tear down this retread wall," has been the cry of those irked by the movie industry's obsession with all things Reagan era.
This weekend, "Super 8" provided a rebuttal. It turns out you can get what many critics believe is a smart, sweet movie -- and a hit to boot -- by channeling that period.
Although it's set in 1979 and doesn't share a specific title with any movies from the "me decade," "Super 8" is a 1980s film to the core. It plumbs the depths of that pre-Internet, early-fanboy era as much as any film in recent memory. And it contains more references to "E.T," ""Stand by Me" and "The Goonies" -- for many who came of age in the 1980s, the holy trinity of popcorn cinema -- than a VH1 special.
Yet despite the film's determinedly backward glances, critics generally liked it (an 82% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), with prominent reviewers saying things such as "If you're wondering what's missing from so many big-budget, effects-driven Hollywood movies, the answer lies in J.J. Abrams' 'Super 8.'"
Audiences, meanwhile, came out in sizable numbers. The movie's $37-million weekend is the biggest opening of any live-action movie not based on a preexisting brand this year -- a list that, while small, includes "Bridesmaids," "Just Go With It" and "Battle: Los Angeles." "Super 8" also had the best opening in nearly 20 years for any film Steven Spielberg has produced or directed that wasn't based on an existing brand, topping efforts such as "A.I." and "Saving Private Ryan."
That kind of success doesn't mean that an entire decade is ripe for the ransacking, of course. But it does prove that there's a purity to some of its storytelling that can translate today. And while in a brand-obsessed Hollywood remakes aren't exactly produced out of idealism, that doesn't mean they can't yield something interesting.
Later this summer we'll get more literal '80s visitations in the form of "Fright Night" and "Conan the Barbarian." Who knows how good these movies will be, and whether we'll greet them with an embrace or an eye-roll? But "Super 8" at least shows that with the right filmmakers holding the right intentions, a little nostalgia may not be a bad thing.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: A scene from "Super 8." Credit: Paramount Pictures