Close Encounters of the Extraterrestrial Goonies

Been gone for quite a while again and feeling bad about not writing, but I’ve been busy writing a newsletter for a local business and picking up the occasional waiting shift at a local restaurant, not to mention an hour of (stationary) bike riding three times a week, so I haven’t been overexcited to spend the time to write.  Anyway, I got out to the movies last weekend, so here goes.

Directed by J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost, Star Trek) and brought to you by super producer Steven Spielberg under his Amblin banner, Super 8 is a new movie hoping to tap back into the charm of old Amblin classics like E.T. and The Goonies.  Does it work?  Read on to find out.

Super 8 follows a group of children, centered on a boy who has recently lost his mother, as they film an amateur zombie movie in the summer of 1979.  While filming, they are witness to a train crash and soon discover that there was an alien creature being transported on that train that has now been let out.  That’s the general story line anyway, but in reality, we have two different movies happening at the same time.

The first of these “movies” is a drama (with plenty of comedic moments) about a boy in a tough situation (in this case, the death of his mother) and his relationships with his friends and family.  Think something along the lines of Stand by Me.  The other movie is an action flick about a giant alien attacking, along the lines of Cloverfield or The Thing.

The movie about the children is brilliant, and I don’t use that word lightly.  The kids in this movie are absolutely amazing and carry this movie the whole way through.  After seeing this movie, I want a new Goonies movie with the cast of this movie, because that’s what these kids are.  They are the cliche rag-tag bunch of kids from all your favorite 80s movies, the slightly reserved, kinda introverted main character, the comedic fat kid, the nerdy kid, the slightly older, more mature kid, the girl who breaks into the boys club; they’re all here.  But not only are these characters here, they’ve largely avoided one-note stereotypes and have really managed to bring to life fleshed-out loveable characters.   What really sets this apart from recent movies with groups of kids and makes this such a nostalgic flashback to the great kid movies like The Goonies, is that the writer and director really treat the kids like adults.  They’ve all got heart and drive, and even when they are being goofy and acting like kids, it’s always got substance to it and reminds you of when you were a kid, rather than alienating you because you no longer are one.

The main kid in this, played by newcomer Joel Courtney, is phenomenal in this movie.  I can’t believe this is his first real gig, and he is definitely someone to keep an eye on.  He plays downtrodden but loveable really well and it’s his relationships with other characters that really makes this movie work.  Most importantly, his relationship with the girl in the group, which is strained for reasons I won’t mention so as not to spoil anything, is golden.  Watching their relationship develop and grow is really the backbone of this movie.  And of course, it’s not all to his credit.  Elle Fanning, younger sister of successful actor Dakota Fanning, nails it in this movie.  I think she’s looking to have a career at least as good if not much better than her sister.

I also have to give credit to Riley Griffiths and Ryan Lee in this movie.  Riley Griffiths plays the overweight best friend, and like you would expect brings a bit of comedy relief.  But that is far from his only role in this movie.  His drive to get his zombie movie made, as well as his very strong while sometimes rocky friendship with the main character, adds a lot of emotion and really drives the story forward.  Now, Ryan Lee is the comedy you’re looking for.  Taking the nerdy, awkward kid a step further, and creating a pyromaniac that is obsessed with explosives adds for some real laughs in this movie.

After all that raving about the movie, I wish I could say that it was perfect.  While I did really love it and I feel it has a place amongst classic “kids” movies, it’s the storyline with the alien that ruins it a bit.  For the first two acts, the storyline with the train and the alien serves as a stage for this amazing drama between the kids (and families) to play out.  The problem comes in the third act.  Suddenly, it feels as if the writer remembered that the creature exists and it dawns on him that he needs to do something with it.  So you end up with an abrupt change in tone to a sort of action/adventure movie and the movie resolves itself way too quickly; kind of like he wrote, “Oh yeah, and this is what happened with the alien…”  Now, luckily, because of the strength of the kids’ story it doesn’t ruin the movie and amongst this disappointing tacked on ending, there are little bits at the end that do a good job of closing the “real movie” that we had been watching for the first good part of the film.

One more quick thing I want to touch on is the look of the movie.  It’s beautifully shot and really feels like you’re living in the time period.  It definitely borrows shots and coloring, among other things, from movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., but in a nice homage sort of way.  The only complaint I have about the look of the movie is the ridiculous overuse of lens flare.  J.J. Abrams is infamous for lens flare and he goes crazy with it in this movie.  Occasionally, the blue lens flair in this movie works nicely as a nod to Close Encounters, but it does get very distracting at times throughout the movie.

So in the end, it’s not a perfect movie, but I still can’t recommend it enough, especially if you grew up in the 80s with movies like E.T. and The Goonies.  It’s a shame the alien stuff couldn’t be resolved a bit more smoothly, but in the end it wasn’t really ever about the alien.  I will definitely be watching again, and more importantly watching to see where these kids go in their careers.

Go see this movie…

(See, look at all that blue lens flare….)

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