On the rare occasion, I find myself writing out my thoughts/review of a movie while I’m watching the movie. This was one of those movies. This movie sends you back to a childhood where imagination can turn into reality and CGI takes a step back.
Summary. As is well documented, this movie is a J.J. Abrams tribute to Steven Spielberg. Within minutes, you recognize elements of “The Goonies”, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Jurassic Park.”
It is 1979. The last day of middle school is in the rear view mirror. A group of friends are putting the finishing touches on a “zombie movie” that Charles (Riley Griffiths) wishes to submit for competition. His best friend, Joe (Joel Courtney), is his right hand man. Charles and Joe, along with a group of friends, sneak out of their homes at the all important hour of midnight and head out to a train station to film a pivotal scene. As luck would have it (or not), they see a train approaching in the distance and scramble to start filming. A truck collides with the train and the train derails. It isn’t long until the military shows up at the scene. Instead of sticking around, the kids jump into their car and head home. Soon afterwards, weird events happen in the town like the disappearance of car engines and even a few humans, and the dogs decide it is time to abandon their owners. Why? I’m not exactly spoiling anything here: the US Air Force was transporting a monster.
Elle Fanning. The leads in this film are Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, and Kyle Chandler (Jack Lamb – Joe’s father and a town deputy). Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning); however, steals the movie. (Charles convinces Alice to play the role of the “wife” in his zombie movie.) There are two distinct pieces that highlight her acting chops. One is at the train station. As she does a run through of the scene, the boys are in awe and I do believe that those of us watching in the theater are, as well. If that scene doesn’t leave you breathless, you’ve got to be brain dead. I’m betting that certain scenes were re-written just so that Fanning could shine. And here’s another bet: ten to fifteen years from now Elle and Dakota Fanning will battle it out for an Oscar (similar Oscar battles happened in 1942 and 1966).
Innocence. As I left the theater, I did have one major complaint about this movie. Why did they make the summer of 1979 seem so, dare I say, innocent? The history side of me felt this was a major disconnect. There was Three Mile Island (a news clip is shown and one can’t help but also think about Japan’s current nuclear disaster). Iran was going to the fundamentalists and the Iran hostage crisis was just around the corner. As I drove home, I started to have a change of heart. For anyone trying to make a living, recent years are all about economic chaos and terrorism, but what about for a twelve year-old? What’s happening now is all background noise – just like Three Mile Island is televised but largely ignored by our hero Joe – right? Thirty years from now someone might look back and remember listening to music on an Ipod (versus a 1979 walkman), creating a virtual world (model train) and filming a movie on a 5D Canon camera (8mm). And there will always be that memory of Joe’s “Alice” and Alice’s “Joe.”
Image originally published here