Super 8, the new Steven Spielberg via J.J. Abrams science fiction film, is an evocative and wonderful story as told through the eyes (more of less) of a young boy verging on puberty and a whole new set of emotions. Evoking such Spielberg classics as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. and most significantly Jaws, it also manages to incorporate many elements from the old Universal monster movies of the 50’s, the feeling of an era both real and imagined, in this case the late 70’s, the sense of being a kid and the spark of young love. For as much as this movie tips its hat to its predecessors, Abrams has delivered a fantastic and tremendous summer movie that lives up to the hype and will surely become a classic in its own right.
Set in a small town in Ohio in 1979, the film immediately plunges us into the story of Joe Lamb. His father, the grieving widower deputy sheriff… his friends, a group of boys making a zombie movie with their Super 8 camera… and the girl of his dreams who is now making the movie with the guys. The camera angles… the colors used… the lingering over time specific toys and products… the weepy pauses and nostalgic moments that seem to work in a way that in any other hands would come off as treacly and lame… all conspire to set a tone and a feeling where we will buy into anything that happens because we have become emotionally invested, in the span of roughly 15 minutes. Very Spielbergian (new word?). Yet, the story has Abrams all over it.
If you are a LOST fan… or perhaps Alias or Star Trek… you will recognize certain J.J. Abrams trademarks… lens flares, daddy issues and having to let go… of something. Super 8 is no exception. Here it is played out in ideas Abrams had about two separate film projects, one involved growing up with your friends while making movies and falling in love for the fist time… the other, an alien escapes from a train crash en route to some secret military base and wreaks havoc. Somehow he managed to create peanut butter and chocolate out of two very different tales.
Abrams is not the only star though… sure Spielberg produced, and it was a pleasure seeing the Amblin and Bad Robot logos together at the beginning, but the young cast and supporting cast seem to give it everything they’ve got and it pays off in spades. Much of the story, which I am doing my best to give away almost nothing of, revolves around the youngest in the cast, many of whom are first time actors… namely; Joel Courtney as Joe, who bears a striking resemblance to a young Henry Thomas; Riley Griffiths, the little dictator of a director and Joe’s best friend; Ryan Lee, the little pyro in the bunch, and others… but the absolute stand out, Elle Fanning. How she is connected to and connects with our protagonist is sad and lovely in a surprising way.
Rounding out the main cast are Kyle Chandler as Joe’s father, a great turn by Ron Eldard as Alice’s (Fanning) father (told you… daddy issues abound) and Noah Emmerich (the CDC guy in The Walking Dead) in the singular image of the military bad guy. Not a poor performance in the bunch and always a pleasure to watch.
I have always respected film makers who decide to keep the plot of their movies or TV shows as little known as possible for maximum impact, so I won’t say anything else regarding the plot of the film (not that I really said anything more than what you will learn from the first half of the trailer). What I will say is that this film is well written, has a great story and mystery propelling it forward at a pitch perfect pace, awesome action sequences and seamless special effects. A perfect summer movie that feels as though it’s been with us for decades… and in a way… it has. But Super 8 is the film we didn’t realize we needed until it was here.
Another case of making geeks look cool(ish),
Cornelius J. Blahg