I met and interviewed JJ Abrams in May. I was sent to interview the Midas of TV and movies – he created Alias and Lost for the small screen, and re-energised two massive franchises, Mission: Impossible and Star Trek, for the big screen – about his new film, as writer and director, Super 8. It’s in cinemas next week, and has already made $169,069,546 at the box office since its US release. It’s another hit, in other words.
Set in 1979, when Abrams was 13 (he’s one year younger than me), it concerns a bunch of Ohio kids making a home movie on – you guessed it – a Super 8 camera. This is exactly what Abrams did as a kid growing up in Los Angeles in the 1970s and, indeed, what Steven Spielberg, his producer, did when growing up in Arizona in the 1950s. As such, it’s a nostalgic delight for people of a certain age.
Though it’s set in suburban Ohio, and I grew up in suburban Northampton in the East Midlands, I was able to bond instantly with JJ Abrams during my allotted 40 minutes in his effervescent company in that posh London hotel room. It turns out we both had the Aurora glow-in-the-dark plastic kit model of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Let me explain. Aurora Plastics Corporation was an American company that produced models for young hobbyists in the 1960s. Mostly the standard military aircraft and racing cars until they acquired a licence from Universal Studios to create a series based on the studio’s iconic monsters: Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, King Kong and so on. Though the company was sold to Nabisco in 1971, the model line continued, and I was given the Hunchback kit around that time, for my birthday, the first of what would turn into a near-definitive collection.
Apart from being fantastic and vivid representations of their Universal characters, these models had special fluorescent parts. In the Hunchback’s case, his hunch would glow in the dark, as well as his head. Once the model had been glued together, he fluoresced, eerily and in lime green, from my bedside table and scared the life out of me. I had to have him stored elsewhere, as he was keeping me awake.
And he was so important to the young JJ Abrams, he gave one to the central teenage character of Super 8, Joe (played by newcomer Joel Courtney), who’s seen meticulously painting Quasimodo at one solitary point in the story. As soon as I saw that model, and the equivalent of Humbrol model paints being applied with a thin brush, I was transported back to my own childhood, and JJ Abrams and I had bonded. Bonded as surely as if we’d been stuck together with Airfix model glue. I could smell that enamel paint!
Abrams is, like Spielberg, something of a Peter Pan figure. He’s a married father of three, but refuses to grow up. Just like Steven Spielberg. And such is his boundless enthusiasm (his catchphrase, in real life, is “Ohmigod!”), I came away from our interview feeling like we were friends for life.
I suspect we’re not. But the fact that I feel like we are tells you all you need to know about JJ Abrams. And about the eerie power of the Aurora glow-in-the-dark model.