Opening in 1979, SUPER 8 (2011) is JJ Abrams’ tribute to Stephen Spielberg. A handful of tweens have set out to make a thriller movie in their small town, but after they witness a mysterious train wreck, they discover their town is caught in the middle of a clash between a runaway alien and the military trying to capture him. This does a good job providing a predominantly kids’ eye view and making the seemingly monstrous alien more sympathetic, and the performances are consistently good, including Elle Fanning as one of the actors and Kyle Chandler as one of the parents. On the downside there are several bits that don’t make sense, such as why the alien cocoons humans when it’s not apparently planning to eat them and the way some of the adults turn into nice guys too abruptly. Still it works. “‘You will die, your parents will die’ — this is not good information!”
The director’s cut of DARK CITY (1998) makes me even more appeciative what a great movie this is, both visually and in the story. Rufus Sewell wakes up amnesiac to find himself apparently a murderer, but why does he feel like he isn’t? Is he really trying to get back at wife Jennifer Connelly? Why does detective William Hurt feel there’s something strange about the whole business? All of this taking place in a city of perpetual night, haunted by the dark-clad Strangers headed by Mr. Book (Ian Richardson) and Mr. Hand (Richard O’Brien — the commentary track says the younger members of the cast went into orbit at being in the same film as Rocky Horror‘s Riff Raff), while sinister doctor Kiefer Sutherland skulks around in the background. This version dispenses with the opening narration with director Alex Proyas says he added after realizing how lost the test audience was (“I knew there was a problem with reaching the mass market.”), among other changes; the commentary and Making Of features discuss themes, acting, visuals and as someone who loves the film, I found it all fascinating.“What kind of killer do you think stops to save a dying goldfish?”
For some reason I’ve never been able to share most people’s enthusiasm for THE IRON GIANT (1999) and it’s heartwarming animated story of Boy Meets Robot in a 1950s small town populated by beatnik Harry Connick Jr., waitress Jennifer Aniston and G-Man Christopher McDonald. Brad Bird’s takeoff on monster movies here just feels off in a way that The Incredibles didn’t. Part of it is that the FBI agent is an over-the-top caricacture who doesn’t fit with the more realistic tone of the other characters, but I don’t think that’s all of it. Still, definitely qualifies for the Kids and ETs chapter of Alien Visitors and due to the agent, the Men in Black chapter as well. “I am not a gun.”
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (2019) is a Belgian TV series that sets the story in the present day — actually it doesn’t because this has zero to do with Wells’ novel. The aliens aren’t Martians (admittedly a hard sell today), their superweapon is an EMP that shuts down our tech and most of the first two episodes are concerned with either character study or standard society-is-collapsing scenarios (and less interesting ones than, say Day of the Triffids).
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