Freeview film of the day Saturday 16 September: Super 8

Strange things are afoot in JJ Abrams' hair-raising, heartfelt love letter to Steven Spielberg

Super_8

Super 8  ★★★★ 
9.00-11.20pm C4

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As a cub reporter in 1991, I was dispatched to interview James Belushi, who was promoting Taking Care of Business (known in the UK as Filofax), a broad life-swap comedy in which a slob steals a yuppie’s personal organiser. The fact that its screenplay had been written by a college graduate called JJ Abrams did not pique my interest.

By the time I met this ingénue, 20 years later, he’d changed the face of TV drama with Lost and had reinvigorated the Mission: Impossible and Star Trek film franchises. Abrams was a one-man revenge of the nerds whose ultimate prize would be the third Star Wars trilogy: he would produce and direct first episode The Force Awakens. But we were gathered to discuss a much smaller, more personal project: Super 8.

Set in 1979 in a small steel town in Ohio, it concerns a bunch of geeks making a no-budget zombie movie on a Super-8 cine camera – just as Abrams had done, growing up in suburban Los Angeles – who inadvertently witness something far more spectacular and scary.

An outsider story foregrounding the awkwardness of adolescence – the gang has a token female member (Elle Fanning), who is clearly already outgrowing the boys – Super 8 tells universal truths about the twilight zone of childhood.

It’s a deliberately unstarry affair — the adult likes of Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard and Noah Emmerich are essentially TV names — which helps you get lost in its sealed world.

With its bright alien lights in the night sky and kids being ignored by cosmically myopic grown-ups, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a Steven Spielberg movie. Well, guess whose company co-produced it? Yes, this is essentially a love letter from one junior mogul to his spiritual mentor, and it retains a Goonies-indebted beating heart even when the Industrial Light and Magic effects kick in.

The big draw of Super 8 is its nostalgia for an analogue age. It could retrospectively be read as a prelude to the unconnected hit Netflix series Stranger Things, which also draws on Spielbergian tropes – the paranormal, psychokinesis, parochialism – that might now also be described as “Abramsian”. And there’s no sign of a Filofax, either. Andrew Collins


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