Side note: If the above poster, an imitation of the Drew Struzan posters of an earlier generation of movies, doesn’t get you excited…you simply are not geeky enough.
But that said, this movie is fantastic. J.J. Abrams, which is becoming this generations Steven Spielberg, has taken inspiration from Spielberg in a movie that is more family entertainment than Science Fiction. This has the feel of a late 70s – early 80s flick from Spielberg, and I could very comfortably have believed that he made this in the interim between Jaws and E.T.. The movie had me virtually giggling inside, making me remember what it was like to see those movies as a young child. It brings us back to an era that I guess is now long forgotten, of blissful summers and imaginations gone wild.
The story begins with a group of middle schoolers who, like many of us in that era, decided to make their own science fiction film, in this case a horror flick. It probably echoes the childhoods of both Abrams and Spielberg, who admit to doing the same thing as kids. While filming their own story, they happen to be witnesses to a horrible train accident. Of course, the creature being carried by the train is not your normal circus animal.
As much as the basis of this movie is science fiction, the heart of this movie like many of the earlier Spielberg films is about family, friendship, and the path to adulthood. Joe, the main character, is dealing with the loss of his mother, mixed with the normal confusion of puberty. His father, the town’s deputy sheriff, is dealing with the loss as well, as well as confronting the mystery that surrounds the train wreck. The rest of the cast, especially the children, are fantastic in the depth of their characters and the emotional weight they bring to a film that would not be successful without it.
This is a film that yearns to be E.T. or Close Encounters. Is it that good? Probably not. But it is an excellent film in its own right. I cannot remember a film that was as emotionally based being as fun as this in decades. Most summer films in this era are about superheroes, explosions, and sex. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for that. But there is a place for this too: a film about relationships, about imagination, about childhood, and about growing up.
It is hard for me to explain the joy and wonder this movie brought for me. It has been years, maybe decades, since a film made me feel so…child like. Maybe it was the nostalgia, maybe it was just that this is a damn fine movie. Maybe the locale, a small Ohio town, harkens to my own childhood growing up in a small Ohio town. I do know that this is a movie I will love to see with my kids when they are old enough, getting them to try to understand what it was like growing up in the 1970s. But this is, by far, the movie of the summer at this point. And I would be shocked if it doesn’t end up as one of the best movies of the year. A must see.