Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: J J Abrams
Stars: Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Elle Fanning, Noah Emmerich, Ryan Lee.
Super 8 is a B-movie with an A-grade budget and production values. J J Abrams’ monster movie is a wonderfully entertaining blend of horror and sci-fi cliches mixed with the awe and wonder of films like Spielberg’s ET and Close Encounters, together with the boy’s own adventure sensibility and coming of age themes of films like The Goonies and Stand By Me. It also deals with the transcendental power of movies to heal and inspire.
The setting is Lillian, a small industrial town in Ohio in 1969. Joe Lamb (newcomer Joel Courtney) is still grieving over the death of his mother in an industrial accident. His father Jackson (Kyle Chandler, from tv series Friday Night Lights, etc) is the deputy sheriff and is too busy to really help Joe over his grief. Joe is determined to help his friends make their own zombie home movie for a local film competition. The director is his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths), a teen auteur who has a keen eye for “production values” and money shots. A new addition to the crew is Alice (Elle Fanning), because she has access to a car and can drive them to their next location. Joe and Alice hit it off immediately, which creates a bit of friction and sexual tension within the group.
Late at night they sneak off to film a crucial scene at the local railway station. There they witness a spectacular train derailment. But it seems there was something else aboard the train, which is now loose. They also discover a lot of small white cubes, reminiscent of a Rubik’s cube, are scattered near the crash site. Strange, inexplicable events begin to rock the town, and all of the dogs seem to have disappeared overnight. The next day the military arrives, led by the sinister Noah Emmerich, and isolates the town. The intrepid group investigates the mysterious conspiracy while trying to complete their little movie.
Abrams, who recently rebooted the Star Trek franchise, is another film geek and Super 8 is full of reverential knowing nods at significant films in this genre, and comes across as a loving homage to those films he grew up watching. The setting of a small rural community suddenly threatened by inexplicable events and extraterrestrial invaders is also a staple of these movies. As the producer of Cloverfield, Abrams has delved into sci-fi and monster movies before, but Super 8 lacks the sort of gimmickry that drove that film. And in dealing with themes of dysfunctional family relationships, friendships, grief, loss, death and letting go, Super 8 also has more soul and genuine emotional resonance than most other big budget Hollywood films.
The special effects are all superb, and here they serve the story rather than overwhelming the material. The spectacular train wreck is a highlight, even if the CGI effects become a little obvious. And the period detail reeks of authenticity.
Abrams gets superb performances from his young and largely unknown cast, many of whom are making their debuts here. In particular, Courtney has a natural screen presence, and he carries a lot of the emotional weight of the film as the grieving but heroic Joe. Griffiths adds a wonderful touch of humour, while Ryan Lee (from Friday Night Lights) is also very good as Carey who has a fascination for fireworks and explosions.
Super 8 faithfully follows a formula established by Spielberg three decades earlier but stands on its own merits as a superior genre piece. Spielberg himself is aboard as executive producer, and his influence can easily be seen in nearly every frame of Super 8.