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'Super 8': Maybe bringing back the 1980s is a good idea after all

June 13, 2011 |  8:30 am


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.


Box Office: "Super 8" is No. 1

The critics love "Super 8" for what it represents

How much was "Super 8" influenced by '80s films?

 -- Steven Zeitchik

 Photo: A scene from "Super 8." Credit: Paramount Pictures


Comments () | Archives (11)

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The ending stunk. Very good movie but the last 10 minutes killed it. Usually you'd say that a movie dragged too much, but Super 8 felt like JJ Abrams couldn't wait to end it.

Those three hardly constitute the "holy trinity " of popcorn movies in the 80s.

But glad Super8 is doing well today.

The 80s angle really didn't play a factor in the film's success. Yes, you see it while watching the film. But audiences likely didn't know that going in. They say the mysterious trailers, saw Abrams' name above the title and that, apparently, was enough. (As well it should be).

'80s nostaglia sure appeals to me, but I can't imagine the 18-24 year old crowd is clamoring to see more shout outs to the decade. Witness the pitiful box office for Hot Tub Time Machine and Take Me Home Tonight as better examples of '80s burnout.

"Just Go With It" was released on a pre-existing brand, it's called "Brooklyn Decker's Lucious Bossom"

Surprisingly very good. Wasn't entirely sure why the film had to take place in the late 70's but it worked. The environment was perfect, with the cars, clothing, music, references and fear of 'Russian' invasion and the seemingly limitless authority the military was perceived to have. The kids were the best, and your description of it being straight out of "Stand by me", "the Goonies" and even "The Sandlot" were dead on.

Highly recommended.

I think the author has it wrong. This film doesnt justify remakes, it goes to show movie goers want an original Story in the spirit of great films from the past. There's a big difference between remaking it and making it like they used to.

The author is only about 33% correct in attributing the 1980's to "Super 8". I mean the title itself is nod to '70s.

"Super 8" is most similar to "Close Encounters..." and even shares that movie's post-watergate distrust of government and 1970's ecological and environmental concerns (remember the crying native american in a '70's PSA?).

The film is quick to point out the 3 Mile Island incindent. And it's most spectualar scene is a military train derailment(with suspection that it is carrying toxic material)

In the '80s, Reagan was in office and the common wisdom was that government was no longer the problem, the EPA had become too powerful, and it wasn't UFOs from alien planets that we feared. It was ICBMs from the commies (O.K. there was one small nod to the Russians in the movie).

Another area that define's the movie decade is the technology.

By the 80's, Videocameras, became the choice techology for home movies. But there is one other 1980's technology absolutely missing from "Super 8" and that is Computers. The computer/videogame revolution was in full play by 1980. But Abrams highlights the Rubik Cube, not the Atari consoles. A convenience store clerk introduces a "Walkman", not a "CD Player".

If there is one area harkens back to the '80s, it's the pre-teen/teen adventure story. In the '70's you rarely ever saw an adventure story with kids- outside of the regular Disney grindhouse that is “Computer wore Tennis Shoes”, “Freaky Friday”, etc.).

But 80's movies like the aforementioned “E.T.”, “The Goonies” and “Stand By Me”, “Wierd Science” and the rest of John Hughes' '80's fare were common staple of most of that decade's summer. The trend even serendipitously found it's way into the 3rd “Mad Max” film, albeit awkwardly.

Howeve, “Super 8” is more about Speilberg in the '70s, when he strived for big ideas rather than smaller intimate ones.

It was a good overall movie Dakto Fannings sister is a great actress I'd bet her and her sister will win an Oscar one day.


The Monster looks like the Cloverfield monster jjabrams saicd he was gonna tie another movie into it, this is it.

this movie felt like I was watching Jurassic Park .


In 1979, where the movie is set, there were no CD players (1982), nor consumer camera recorders (1983, 1985).


"But there is one other 1980's technology absolutely missing from "Super 8" and that is Computers. The computer/videogame revolution was in full play by 1980."

Just wanted to point out that plenty of movies from even the mid-80's didn't even feature computers or video games. I can't think of any scenes in John Hughes movies, for instance, that highlighted this technology, save for perhaps an arcade scene or two, if that. But then again, there were no arcades in 1979. I definitely don't think the movie should've included this type of technology at all. The hand-held football game was perfect, and good enough.

BTW: I LOVED this movie. Loved it.

I grew up in SW Ohio at this time and they missed a huge opportunity to tie in some local flavor. "The Beast" roller coaster at Kings Island (very close to where fictional "Lillian, OH" is) opened the spring of 1979....the exact same time the movie was set!!! That would've been so cool! Side note - if you're ever near Cincinnati, check out Kings Island - great amusement park and The Beast is still awesome 32 years later - I think it might be the biggest/faster wooden coaster anywhere....


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