At first glance, Super 8 might seem like all the other movies in the multiplex these days: it has fireballs, lots of loud explosions, and an impressively creepy digital monster. But that's where the similarities to the standard blockbuster end. The movie isn't a sequel, it's not based on a novel, or a comic, or a TV show, and it has no stars. Rather, it features a band of young misfits who live in a small town and spend their time making movies.
Super 8 was written and directed by J.J. Abrams — a man who has had big success on the small screen with TV shows such as Lost and Alias, and who breathed new life into the Star Trek franchise. Super 8, he tells NPR's Michele Norris, didn't start out as a monster movie. "The idea at first was just a small intimate story," he says. "A story about first love, a story about a broken family."
But the film was missing something, he explains: "I wanted something external, something physical that would represent ... the struggle happening internally with the main character." At the time, Abrams was also mulling over another plot: A U.S. Air Force train transporting contents from Area 51 crashes and its content escapes. "It occurred to me," Abrams says, "that if I combined these stories ... this creature that is out there in this world really does represent all this pain and this agony of the loss this boy is suffering."
Filming with child actors was challenging, but fun — Abrams and his wife have three kids and "the idea of that kind of energy and the need to wrangle kids felt incredibly familiar," he says. "It was my job just to film them being themselves, as opposed to trying to force square pegs into round holes and get them to be things they weren't."
The result is a feeling that the kids have their own universe — a valentine, of sorts, to the types of films that Steven Spielberg made, in which children were heroes in their own right. "I called [Spielberg] immediately when I had this idea," Abrams says, "... and luckily he said he was interested in working on it with me. I didn't even realize at the time that one of the reasons I called him so quickly was because that period of time in my life was so profoundly influenced by the movies of that era — many of which were his."
Super 8 attempts to echo the Amblin Entertainment classics that Spielberg made — "the feeling is a feeling of infinite possibility," Abrams says. Sure, there were scary moments, but in Amblin films, "you always felt you were in good hands."
Abrams is shooting for heart and wholesomeness — the kind of film you want to see with the whole family on a warm summer night at a drive-in. "The idea [is] that at the end of the film you feel better then you did when you got there," Abrams says. The experience should feel communal, whether you're in a car or a theater — and it's one that Abrams hopes diverse audiences will enjoy. "As with Amblin movies, there is no one audience," he says. "The movie is for everyone."