The Herald Bulletin

June 9, 2011

Heather Bremer: Abrams poised to take over Spielberg's summer throne

By Heather Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

— The debut of “Super 8” is more than just the opening of another summer movie.

It’s the passing of a torch and the promise of a return to the type of filmmaking that made us fall in love with the big screen.

“Super 8,” so named for the 8-millimeter film once used to record motion pictures, is the latest project from writer and director J.J. Abrams. He’s directed just two other feature films, but both were major league projects. In 2009, he made “Star Trek” cool for the first time to the tune of $257 million, a franchise record. And in 2006, he impressed with his first movie, “Mission: Impossible III,” despite an underwhelming box office total largely due to the public’s disenchantment with actor Tom Cruise.

But Abrams isn’t just a director. With 26 producer and 20 writing credits to his name, he’s had a hand in some of the best things in entertainment in recent years, particularly on television. He gave Keri Russell and Jennifer Garner their big breaks as creator of “Felicity” and “Alias.” He’s the mastermind behind “Fringe,” Fox’s sci-fi thriller starring Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv and John Noble. And Abrams was an executive producer for that little show that came to a close last year about some people stuck on an island with a smoke monster, polar bear and the Others.

He’s a busy guy and one of the most sought-after names in Hollywood ... just like one of the producers of “Super 8.”

You may have heard of him. Some guy named Spielberg?

Steven Spielberg is the reason Americans have a love affair with film. Ask 10 random people over the age of 25 what their favorite movie is and many will come back with a Spielberg film. From “Jaws” to the “Indiana Jones” franchise to “Jurassic Park,” Spielberg is the name in blockbusters. Blockbusters that leave lasting impressions and shape what we expect from cinema.

Abrams seems to be taking up that mantle. “Super 8” has drawn more than a few comparisons to “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” And Abrams has Spielberg’s talent for making a blockbuster more than a special-effects light show (something not even James Cameron accomplished in “Avatar”). Not to mention his unique ability to keep a lid on his projects, which ramps up the mystery and anticipation so many big summer pictures lack.

Like Spielberg, you root for Abrams to top studios’ lists on any project — because you know any film, especially a genre project, will be safe in his hands.

We’ve already seen plenty of evidence that Abrams is ready to assume the role of blockbuster king from Spielberg. “Super 8” will no doubt further that idea.

But can Abrams evolve like Spielberg?

After Spielberg had set the standard for blockbuster fare, he tackled the more serious side of filmmaking. Early efforts included “The Color Purple” and “Empire of the Sun.” Oscar winners “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan” followed. All the while, Spielberg stayed true to his roots, employing the same type of storytelling he used to terrify us with a big shark to show the horrors of World War II.

Who’s not to say Abrams doesn’t have a “Schindler’s List” or “Saving Private Ryan” in him?

As long as he keeps giving moviegoers the type of films Spielberg taught us to love, we’ll be asking him to try.

“Super 8” is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 112 minutes. Enjoy the show.