That big Amblin Entertainment logo that’s been plastered on “Super 8” marketing material for over a year has everyone buzzing about Steven Spielberg’s apparent passing of the torch to J.J. Abrams. That’s a fine, valid sentiment (even if it is one we should be reserved about), and it’s an easy connection to make. After all, Spielberg made a couple of big time alien flicks you might have heard of (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.”) back in the late ’70s/early ’80s. So it’s no surprise that “Super 8,” a film about a group of young kids discovering an alien menace in 1979 automatically gets the nostalgia juices flowing, leaving everyone to anoint Abrams as our new summer blockbuster king.
However, before we do that, we should be thinking about another king – namely Stephen King – whose works (and their adaptation) seem to have subtly informed “Super 8.” If a bunch of tween friends stumbling upon something abnormal some decades ago sounds familiar, it’s because some of King’s most well-known works have employed it to great effect over the years. The author is known as a horror maestro, but what often gets lost in appraisal of his work is his ability to wistfully capture the pains of adolescence and the importance of friendship.
You can see hints of it in 1985s “Silver Bullet,” where a young, wheelchair-bound Corey Haim figures out that there’s a werewolf terrorizing his hometown during the summer of ’76. Though Haim’s character ends up enlisting his big sister (Megan Follows) and uncle (Gary Busey) rather than a group of friends, the mix of nostalgia, terror, and wonder is there in full force.
“Stand by Me”
A year later, Rob Reiner adapted King’s short story “The Body” into “Stand by Me,” which is one of the best King-related works ever. In it, a group of young friends (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell) trek across town to check out a dead body, this time in the summer of ’59. It’s more about the journey itself rather than the destination, though, as the whole thing is sort of an epic coming-of-age tale. “Stand by Me” uses King’s signature macabre as a framework to look back on the trials and triumphs of adolescence. Set during Labor Day weekend (meaning school is just around the corner), it soon becomes clear that the dead body bleakly foreshadows the gang’s loss of innocence and youth.
“It” is a signature King work, and one that seems to bear a lot of similarities to “Super 8.” Originally airing as a mini-series, it’s split into two parts; the first half mostly deals with a gang of friends (dubbed “The Losers Club”) and their encounter with a malevolent entity (known only as “It”) back in 1960. “It” usually assumes the guise of a killer clown (played by a delightfully freakish Tim Curry), but is eventually revealed to be a shape-shifter that preys on fear. Though it isn’t as heavily reminiscent or nostalgic as “Stand by Me” (these kids’ endured some ugly childhoods), innocence and horror once again clash.
Then there’s “Dreamcatcher.” You’re probably asking yourself, “wasn’t that one about a bunch of guys hanging out in the cold Maine wilderness?” You’d be right; however, you may recall that those guys were once childhood friends who once befriended an abnormal kid named Duddits (played as an adult by Donnie Wahlberg). The movie itself might not dwell on the childhood aspects, we do get flashbacks to their past exploits, so that undercurrent of friendship is there. Basically, “Dreamcatcher” feels like a retread of the second half of “It,” only it’s not quite as good.
King’s Other Stories
This is not to mention plenty of other works by King that dwell on nostalgia; so many of his novels and short stories are set in past decades. Stuff like “Sleepwalkers,” “The Green Mile,” and “The Shawshank Redemption” are all delivered through a glint of nostalgia that tries to recapture ages that have gone by. J.J. Abrams’s similar tactics for “Super 8” are pretty transparent–it’s pretty obvious that he’s tried to craft a love letter to the movies that raised him. And sure, some of those movies were no doubt helmed by the man who has helped shepherd it into existence with his Amblin seal of approval, but I can’t help but think we shouldn’t be leaving King out of this discussion.