Super 8 drama at 10: JJ Abrams talks lingering mysteries (and weighs in on compelling fan theory)

Ten years ago, writer-director J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8” arrived in theaters, shrouded in mystery.

The trailer had revealed a monster, unseen, wreaking havoc on 1979’s Lillian, Ohio with the town’s perplexed Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) saying, “We’ve got things happening here that I can’t explain.”

Many “Super 8” enigmas were answered due to the sleuthing efforts of the sheriff’s son, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), and his pack of Super 8 movie-shooting friends — including Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning in a breakout performance).

But many questions persist a decade after the film’s June 10, 2011 release. As “Super 8” lives on with a 10th anniversary Blu-ray release, we sought answers from Abrams. 

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(L-R) Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Ron Eldard in "Super 8." (Photo: PARAMOUNT HOME ENTERTAINMENT)

Was there a link between the ‘Super 8’ monster and ‘Cloverfield’?

Prior to release, “Super 8” saw feverish speculation that its monster was somehow connected to the mysterious alien from the Abrams-produced 2008 horror film “Cloverfield.” Abrams was mum about any connection before release, stoking the mystery.

However, the “Super 8” monster named Cooper turned out to be a six-legged E.T. trying to rebuild his spaceship and go home after escaping his torturing army captors. Cooper had some human kills — rightfully biting the head off Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich) — but has stayed off movie screens since departing Earth.

Meanwhile, the “Cloverfield” beast, whose last appearance was in 2018’s “The Cloverfield Paradox,” was “just another alien who just happened to come from (production company) Bad Robot,” says Abrams. “That’s really the extent of the Venn diagram between these two movies.”

What was the root of the Deputy Lamb-Louis Dainard feud?

So awkward. Ron Eldard, left, plays Louis Dainard and Kyle Chandler plays Jackson Lamb. (Photo: Francois Duhamel, Paramount Pictures)

There’s a deep hatred between Sheriff Jackson Lamb and Alice’s troubled father, Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard), on display from the movie’s first scenes. But it’s never fully explained.

The official reason for the bad blood is Louis bailed from work at the factory and Elizabeth Lamb (Jackson’s wife, Joe’s mom) fatally filled in – dying when a steel beam fell on her head.

Really? That’s it?

Perhaps the mutual animosity stemmed from competing love over Elizabeth? Abrams confirms. “It’s funny. We definitely talked about that, that there could have been some history there,” he concedes.

A compelling fan theory suggests Louis and Elizabeth were once a couple, having child Alice, before Jackson and Elizabeth were together, having Joe. This could explain so much — including the mutual hatred and Louis’ line to Alice: “Go ahead, leave, just like your mother did.”

(L-R) Elle Fanning, Ron Eldard and Joel Courtney in "Super 8." (Photo: PARAMOUNT HOME ENTERTAINMENT)

This theory would make the older Alice and Joe half-siblings (so Luke and Leia), which could explain why they simply hold hands at movie’s end, with not even an innocent Hollywood-ending smooch.

“They’re not (related),” says Abrams, drawing the line. “I don’t know if kiss or no kiss defines their relationship, the idea was more that they had this deep connection.”

Beyond any love tension, Abrams chalks the Jackson contempt for Louis because he’s “just trouble. He was sort of the local mess of a guy.”

What happened to ‘The Case,’ Super 8’s zombie movie?

Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning at lunch. (Photo: PARAMOUNT HOME ENTERTAINMENT)

The film features budding movie director Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths) shooting a Super 8 zombie movie with Alice as a star. At the end of “Super 8”  Charles showed off his own work, “The Case,” saying he hoping to enter a local film festival.

So what happened to “The Case”? Major success: Abrams even has the movie’s eventual poster hanging in his Los Angeles office. “Someone made the movie poster, which is hilarious to me,” he says.

The director says shooting the faux zombie movie on Super 8 film was his movie highlight.

“It felt so much like making movies when I was a kid that I actually thought about doing a (TV) series shot that way.” says Abrams. “It just felt so familiar, and the kids had such a ball. It was really the best part.”

Did Abrams mangle any of Steven Spielberg’s Super 8 films?

Steven Spielberg chose young filmmakers J.J. Abrams (L) and Matt Reeves to restore his Super 8 films. (Photo: Jordan Strauss, Invision for The Producers Guild)

“Super 8” was inspired by real life when 16-year-old film prodigies Abrams and Matt Reeves, winners of a student festival, were chosen by “Jaws” director Steven Spielberg to repair his childhood Super 8 movies. Abrams is still blown away that Spielberg, eventually a producer on the “Super 8” movie, trusted the kids with the mission.

“It was crazy. We didn’t understand it then, I don’t understand it now,” he says. “Somehow they handed us his original 8 MM films, which we then repaired.” 

When asked if there were any youthful film mishaps, Abrams says no, but admits he considered talking a harmless memento from the young director, who called himself “Steve Spielberg.”

“The film ‘Escape to Nowhere’ had a title card that said ‘Directed by Steve Spielberg.’ I said to Matt, ‘We got to just take one frame, just one frame. And he was like, no we can’t do that,” says Abrams. “So we didn’t do it.”

“I would have,” Abrams adds. “Matt was the one with the morals and sense of right and wrong. I apparently I did not.”

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