There is a wall in J.J. Abrams’ office bearing the image of a silly man looking like he just ate something awful. He’s a cartoonish character lifted from the packaging of novelty items and magic tricks Abrams loved as a kid. The wall itself is a clever gag too, for it is also a sliding door to another, more private room, which on this April morning is being used by another icon from Abrams’ childhood — someone who has become a very real part of his present. ”I would be lying if I said there aren’t moments that leave me paralyzed with disbelief,” says Abrams of his surreal friendship with our most celebrated living director. ”Steven Spielberg. Crazy.”
Movie fans are now seeing for themselves what happens when two of the industry’s most creative minds decide to dream up cool stuff together. Super 8, written and directed by Abrams and produced by Spielberg, is a PG-13 sci-fi adventure in the old-school Amblin mode engineered to evoke the movies Abrams loved as a kid, including Spielberg’s E.T. and Jaws. It’s suffused with nostalgia for the filmmakers’ wonder years, which were largely spent doing what they’re doing now: making movies. The story, set in 1979, follows a tight-knit band of geeky proto-Goonies who witness a horrific train derailment one night while making a zombie movie using a Super 8 camera. Soon they’re tracking a monstrous and possibly misunderstood entity that has recently escaped from military confinement.
Some might say the Abrams-Spielberg partnership was inevitable. They’d certainly crossed paths many times — including a close encounter when Abrams was just 15 (more on that later). In 1989 Abrams — a promising young screenwriter thanks to his script for Taking Care of Business — formally met Spielberg while pitching ideas for a proposed sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Fifteen years later, Abrams, who’d by now become a hotshot TV producer with Felicity and Alias, declined an invitation from Spielberg to write the script for War of the Worlds, due to the demands of launching Lost. But the courtship did facilitate an introduction to someone who would launch Abrams’ feature-film directing career: Tom Cruise. (The superstar handpicked Abrams to make Mission: Impossible III.) Since then Abrams and Spielberg have become closer, with the former often seeking the latter’s advice. ”Steven has been my consigliere,” says Abrams, 44. ”I feel like there’s been a collaboration going on long before Super 8.”