In 1977, Steven Spielberg challenged viewers with his epic vision of an alien visitation to an unsuspecting world. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND gave viewers not only spectacle but solid human drama and riveting suspense. The conclusion remains one of the most beautiful sequences in film history as the alien forms and humans interact, a magnificent made even better by John Williams' moving score and Spielberg's uncanny ability to combine superb editing with a magnificent visual pay-off.
Only five years later, the director (and Williams!) concocted one of the most popular films of all time: E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL. Again, combining human drama, cute but believable kids, and an irresistable alien who just wants to go home, Spielberg delivered a thrilling but sentimental sci-fi film bound to warm the hearts of all but the most cynical observer.
Obviously, the above comments don't do justice to Spielberg at his popular best, and neither did the many films that aped his approaches. Remember
GOONIES, GREMLINS, and other lesser attempts? Perhaps the best was the Spielberg-produced POLTERGEIST, which wasn't about aliens at all. Instead this comic fright-fest pitted a charming but flawed modern family (the parents smoke pot!) against the lively energies in their home, which just happens to be built above a former cemetary ("You moved the cemetary, but you left the bodies!").
Well, if you have seen the new Spielberg production SUPER 8, then perhaps many of the above films and themes popped into your memory. Again, we have the incomplete family (E.T., CLOSE ENCOUNTERS). This time the mother has been killed in a factory accident, the father is struggling deputy sherrif, and the only child(Joel Courtney) lives in a dream world of models, monsters, and movies. And...SPOILER ALERT...there's an alien who wants to go home and a big cover-up by Spielberg's favorite villain the U.S. military. Yes, it is all familiar, but this concoction is far more enjoyable than the plot suggests.
For starters, J.J. Abrams, the mastermind behind LOST and ALIAS, has given fresh life to Spielberg's themes, primarily with a sympathetic cast of kids and adults. As in E.T., the kids are left to their own devices, particularly a Super 8 camera which they are using to film a zombie movie.
They create, bicker, apply make-up and fall in love with the leading lady, beautifully played by Elle Fanning. While filming a key scene they witness an incredible train wreck and strange after-effects, captured on film! But enough plot. What makes SUPER 8 work so well is the use of period details( this time late 1970's), a technique Spielberg is famous for. Although the suspenseful and somewhat overly sentimental ending doesn't quite work, SUPER 8 is by far the best "big" movie of the summer.