With Star Trek (2009) director J.J. Abrams’ nostalgic sci-fi epic Super 8 (2011) released in UK cinemas tomorrow, we give a run-down of the directors major influences from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) through to Amy Holden Jones’ 1982 film The Slumber Party Massacre.
Abrams says: “You think, ‘That’s not the way it should work’ but yet you watch it and there’s this incredible, undeniable, massively powerful story. The brilliance wasn’t just the way it was directed but the story approach itself; it was so unconventional and massive in scale and jumping from character to character, country to country and point of view to point of view. And it all works.”
Abrams says: “The famous Bruce the shark story [about the motorised artificial shark] – if the thing had functioned more you would have seen the shark more – and it would have ultimately, probably, been less effective. The imagination of the audience is always infinitely more compelling than what you see on the screen.”
Abrams says: “One of the notable things is Rob Bottin’s unbelievable make-up effects that did things visually that just blew my mind and was so integrated with the intense drama of that paranoia of isolation and fear. There was a great score by Ennio Morricone. What I loved about that movie is it was so deliberate in pacing and so increasingly tense and disturbing and it uses morose, dark comedy in just the right way. Wonderful cast too.”
Abrams says: “One of the brilliant things about Alien, and it was a fairly new idea, was the weathered space-ships and this group of truckers, essentially, in space on these aged ships. The production design was this rough-around-the-edges look that was kind of a wonderful aspect to it. The movie was treated as a straight drama. It just happened to be in space with a terrifying monster on board. The production design and certainly the visual effects execution was completely engrossing. It felt unmistakably real. And with the alien, the great lesson is, ‘The less you see the scarier it is.’”
Abrams says: “This is a bit off the topic but my favourite soundtrack release was the soundtrack for The Slumber Party Massacre. The director was Amy Holden Jones, who wrote Indecent Proposal (1993), but her brother, Ralph Jones, did the entire score – the entire score – on this Casio keyboard that was the length of your forearm and on crystal glasses. He would play the top of the glasses and this keyboard. That was it. It was the craziest soundtrack ever.”
Abrams says: “The David Cronenberg movie Scanners was a massive influence on me. I became obsessed with it. It’s a very disturbing film. At my building, when you come in there’s a big framed poster for Ephemerol, the drug from the movie. Dick Smith did the make-up and I was a fan of his already because of The Godfather (1972) and The Exorcist (1973) and we actually mention him in Super 8 just because he has been such a huge influence on me.”
Abrams says: “The influence of that movie on most people from my generation is enormous, really, and it’s hard to separate my life from that movie and imagine what it would be like without it, it’s so fundamentally important. I like to believe that the audience anticipates that you’re not watching these scenes for no reason and there’s a sense of inevitably and the paths will cross. The scenes of characters who are not running for their lives makes you care about them when they do run for their lives.”