Movie Review: ‘Super 8′
Steeped in 80s nostalgia, Super 8 is a genuine treat for kids of all ages. Director J.J. Abrams collaborates with producer Steven Spielberg to bring audiences the ultimate creature feature (never mind the fact that there is precious little creature in the feature). Though the film is reminiscent of several of Spielberg’s films (namely E.T. and Close Encounters), it has an unmistakable fresh quality we just don’t see now. A ragtag gang of precocious kids find themselves smack dab in the middle of the adventure of a lifetime, and thanks to a superb cast of talented young actors, you feel as though you are an active participant in their story.
In the summer of 1979 amateur filmmaker Charles (Riley Griffiths) has enlisted the help of his friends to film a zombie movie on 8mm film. It’s a pretty impressive endeavor, complete with makeup, special effects and hokey horror-movie dialogue. One night the gang has slipped out to film a scene at the local train station, and they witness a horrific (and seemingly deliberate) train accident. It’s a fantastically exciting action sequence, and will be remembered as being one of the most epic train crashes in movie history.
As the kids stumble about surveying the smoldering ruins of the wreck, Joe (a terrific Joel Courtney) sees something escaping from one of the train cars. We barely catch a glimpse of the creature, but that is all that is needed to fuel the imagination. In the days following the crash, the tiny town they reside in is hurled into a nightmare. (What was the creature? What does it want? Why is the government trying to seize and secure the town, and why are they being so secretive?)
There’s tons of fun to be had as the resourceful group tries to track down the answers to these questions and more. The characters are richly realized and more dimensional than any genre film I can recall. Getting to know these characters is a rewarding experience; and whether they are engaging in banter in the local diner or running for their lives, they are natural and believable. These characters speak how pre-teens talk, not how writers think pre-teens talk. The cast chemistry is wonderful, and allows you to fully invest in their individual fates, all the while cheering for the group to remain intact. Elle Fanning (Dakota’s little sister) is a real standout as Alice, though there isn’t a bad performance in the whole movie. As for the adults, Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) plays the recently widowed town sheriff who also happens to be Joe’s father, and Ron Eldard plays Alice’s perpetually drunk dad. A deliciously wicked Noah Emmerich (The Walking Dead) plays a shady government type.
The film looks great, thanks to some slick production values. It never hurts to have Mr. Spielberg on your production team. Abrams manages to make the film feel like a worthy homage to Spielberg, all the while putting his own touches on the film. It’s great to see the final product of these enormously talented men come to fruition.
Enough of the gushing. The film is not without its flaws. A well paced, thoroughly engaging first half gives way to a somewhat meandering second half. The last third of the film is particularly disappointing, and a bit of a mess. There are two competing storylines that vie for primary status, and the result is a bit muddled. The film could have benefited from a shortened run time, which might have preserved the momentum the first half built. And, as stated before, there is not enough monster to really qualify the film as a monster movie. You have to be able to appreciate a film that is, at its heart, a story of friendship.
However, my grievances are petty. I still heartily recommend the film. It’s a thrilling adventure with tons of heart. If you grew up watching Spielberg’s films, rest easy knowing that a whole new generation of movie fans will be exposed to his legacy. This is one tasty summer movie, a throwback to the serial thrillers that eventually paved the way for Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Super 8 is rated PG-13. Written by J.J. Abrams. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Starring Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Ryan Lee, Riley Griffiths, Noah Emmerich.