By Marty Mulrooney
Super 8 is a science fiction film written and directed by J. J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg. Set in the fictional town of Lillian, Ohio, the film tells the story of a group of children filming their own Super 8 movie when a military train crashes and derails, releasing an unknown entity into the heart of their quiet little suburbia.
Super 8 pays homage to the classic Spielberg directed and produced films of the 1980’s such as E.T. and The Goonies. Although J. J. Abrams of Lost and Cloverfield fame is unmistakably behind the camera, Spielberg’s role as producer is evident throughout. The main characters are predominantly young children, the town they live in a larger-than-life recreation of white-picket-fence-and-perfectly-manicured-lawn late 1970’s America. There are plenty of explosions – there is even some violence and gore – yet it is always a sense of childlike wonderment that prevails.
Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is a 13-year-old boy who has recently lost his mother. His relationship with his father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), is strained and he spends the majority of his free time with his best friend Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths). Charles is an aspiring filmmaker, eager to create a low budget zombie movie for an upcoming film festival with the help of Joe and some other local kids, including Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso), and Cary (Ryan Lee). He also ropes in Alice (Elle Fanning) who, as well as acting, provides transport by stealing her father’s car.
The kids are filming a night-time scene at an old train depot when a white pick-up truck veers onto the tracks and purposely crashes into an oncoming train, derailing it and unleashing the mysterious creature contained within. The crash is followed by a visit from shady U.S. Air Force officials, who share little information with the townsfolk the following day as their dogs flee town, their car engines disappear and people start to go missing. The creature is only barely glimpsed until near the very end of the film and as a result manages to remain both awe-inspiring and scary within the tight confines of a 12A rating.
However it soon becomes readily apparent that the creature is merely a storytelling device, the inevitable final reveal arguably unnecessary. The children and their interactions with each other offer the true appeal of Super 8, the lack of famous names and faces further solidifying the illusion that these are just ordinary kids embarking on an extraordinary adventure. Martin’s habit of vomiting under stress, Charles’ overuse of the word “mint”, Cary’s unhealthy obsession with explosions and fire; each child is unique, well-developed and likeable. Joe makes a great protagonist and his interactions with Alice are well-handled and appropriate. Elle Fanning proves in Super 8 that, although she is the least well-known of the Fanning sisters, she certainly won’t be for long.
Super 8 is the perfect summer blockbuster, able to be enjoyed by the whole family. The visual effects are phenomenal, the soundtrack by long-time Abrams collaborator Michael Giacchino a perfect fit. It doesn’t merely emulate similar films of decades gone by; it matches them and in some ways even betters them. Sure, Abrams and Spielberg try to have it both ways, presenting both a vicious monster and a misunderstood victim all rolled into one. Yet thankfully, the creature isn’t the actual focus at all.
The story doesn’t quite hold together once the sickly sweet, E.T. reminiscent finale arrives… but it doesn’t really matter. Stick around during the end credits to see the real reason why Super 8 is one of 2011’s best films – I can imagine each of the child actors involved in this project going on to do truly great things. A funny, heart-warming, scary and exciting film that is destined to become a bona fide classic in years to come. They just don’t make them like this anymore!
9.5 OUT OF 10
All Images © 2010 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.