J.J. Abrams has had a diverse career during his 20 years in Hollywood – starting off as a writer on films like “Armageddon” and producing thrillers like 2001’s “Joy Ride,” before creating the hit television shows like “Alias” and “Lost.”
His directorial debut was 2005’s “Mission: Impossible III,” followed by 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot. Now Friday sees the release of “Super 8,” which marks his first original property as writer-director and features his idol Steven Spielberg as executive producer.
“Well, you know, it was such a privilege working with him,” Abrams said in a conference call. “He was a hero of mine when I was a kid and to get to collaborate with him was surreal sometimes.”
“Super 8” is produced by Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, which also released “Gremlins,” “The Goonies” and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” According to Abrams, Spielberg supported Abrams’ ideas for the film from the beginning.
“Among the things tha tI’m grateful for is really (Spielberg’s)encouragement to make this movie the way that in my gut I felt it should be,” said Abrams.
Abrams chose the title “Super 8” to refer to the 8 mm cameras both he and Spielberg used to create their first films as children.
“The original idea was that I wanted to do a movie that revolved around a kind of revisiting of my childhood being a kid, making Super 8 films,” said Abrams.”I sort of ended up coming up with a bunch of characters whoI loved and thought there could be a story for.”
When Abrams was posed with the question of how he feels an original property like “Super 8” will do in a summer packed full of reboots and sequels, he seemed both impassioned and humble.
“It’s slightly depressing that the question is so appropriate because there used to be a time when that was what movies were … just original ideas and things,” said Abrams. “And I guess they say there’s no such thing as an original idea, but we are in such a moment of – you know, and I’m the guy who did ‘Mission: Impossible III’ and ‘Star Trek,’ so I am as responsible for and guilty of that as anyone.”
Abrams said he feels both excited and worried about his move into personal filmmaking.
“There are very, very few movies that are coming out this summer that aren’t based on something else or sequels to something else,” said Abrams. “And although I’m thrilled and proud that ‘Super 8’is an original script, I’m also terrified that it’s going to get lost in the shuffle of giants.”
Other than the film’s stakes at the summer box office, what’s most important to Abrams is the story of “Super 8.”
“It wasn’t something that would definitely draw anyone but me to the theater, and the more I thought of it, the more it needed something that was a little bit bigger than just this group of kids and their parents,” Abrams said.
Combining this personal story with a sci-fi element more in the realm of Abrams’ most popular work would soon give him the story he was looking for, he said.
“When I hit upon the idea of combining that notion with another one that I’d had, which was about this thing that escapes from a train car en route from Area 51, I thought, well, that’s suddenly – not only is it – it is a bigger idea and has some spectacle to it,” Abrams said.”But it also allows the kids, who are making this scary zombie movie, suddenly become in a way characters in a much more real and more terrifying, scary movie.”
While the film has been playing well with both critics and audiences alike, the most common criticism is that Abrams tries too hard to tap into what made Spielberg’s original Amblin films like “E.T.” work so well.
“You know, I think everyone in whatever they do has their influences, and certainly Steven is one of my greatest influences, his work,” Abrams said.”And I feel like my goal in any of the projects I’ve been involved in has never been to try and copy or ape another director’s work.”
Abrams said he isn’t copying Spielberg, but rather evoking his childhood along with the influence those films had on him.
“So in a way it was never meant to be homage to those movies – it was meant to be a revisiting of that time in my life with, of course, a crazy bit of genre thrown in,” Abrams said.”But it’s primarily a look at these kids, their parents, a coming-of-age story, a love story that is kind of fused with essentially a monster movie.”
Box Office Mojo has predicted that Abrams’ modest monster movie will do quite well financially this weekend, which will hopefully allow Abrams to keep exploring new territory and keep “Super 8” from being “lost in the shuffle of giants.”