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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Super 8

MOVIE REVIEWS

SUPER 8 (2011)

Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Kyle Chandler, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich, Jessica Tuck, Joel McKinnon Miller, David Gallagher, Britt Flatmo, Jade Griffiths, Dan Castellaneta, Bruce Greenwood, Dale Dickey, Glynn Turman, Richard T. Jones, Jack Axelrod and AJ Michalka.

Screenplay by JJ Abrams.

Directed by JJ Abrams.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures.  112 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

 

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Super 8

It makes a certain amount of sense that Steven Spielberg is one of the producers behind JJ Abrams’ latest crowd-pleaser, because Super 8 is probably the best approximation of one of Spielberg’s classic early films in years. 

It seems like a simple idea – a bunch of suburban kids get caught up in a supernatural – it is vaguely reminiscent of such Spielberg favorites as (amongst others) Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, Poltergeist, Gremlins, The Goonies and countless others.  This film even takes place in the late 70s or early 80s (they never say specifically, but due to some music choices and script factors I am guessing ‘79 or ‘80), the era of those classics.  It also eschews big stars for nuanced storytelling – the only actors who have a “name” here are Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights, Early Edition), Ron Eldard (ER), pop singer AJ Michalka (Aly & AJ) and Elle Fanning, who is quickly surpassing her sister Dakota as the go-to girl actress in Hollywood. 

However, if Super 8 is somewhat reminiscent of those classics, it is also very much its own animal.  Abrams, who has shown a nimble story-telling ability in TV (Alias, Lost) and film (Mission: Impossible 3, the Star Trek reboot), continues to make a claim for being one of the most exciting names in genre filmmaking.

The story is deceptively simple – and the idea obviously stems from Abrams’ childhood. A group of kids are trying to make their own horror film with their dad’s super 8 cameras. There is Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a young boy who has recently lost his mother in a tragic factory accident. Joe is working on makeup and special effects. His best friend is the brains behind the picture, writer and director Charles (Riley Griffiths), who always has to have his way. There is a crazy pyro friend Cary (Ryan Lee) who is running the camera and apparently playing pretty much every zombie in the film. Preston (Zach Mills) is the lighting guy and Martin (Gabriel Bosso) is the lead actor, who can neither lead nor act.

Then there is Alice Dainard (Fanning) the cute but moody local girl who shocks the boys by agreeing to be in their film – and who turns out to be a great little actress.

Joe and Alice’s parents (his dad is the local deputy, hers is a factory worker who used to work with Joe’s mom) are bitterly estranged, for some mysterious reason that has something to do with the mother’s death. Therefore, neither dad wants the two to be together at all. Of course, Joe develops a huge crush on her.

One night, when they are filming at midnight at an empty train station, they inadvertently film an accident which causes a violent derailment of the train. Joe is also certain that he saw something mysterious busting out of a train car.

Suddenly the military is all over the town. People, dogs and electrical parts are mysteriously disappearing. The kids decide that they have to find what is causing all of this craziness in their town.

As is so often the case in this type of film the actual monster – once he is fully exposed to the camera – is a bit of a disappointment. It is a pretty typical CGI creature that is neither as scary nor as alien as intended. It’s like Spielberg learned through necessity in Jaws when his animatronic shark turned out to be regularly malfunctioning – often, the less the audience sees of the monster, the more effective it is in scaring them.

But that slight problem can’t undo a good hour and a half of fine nostalgic genre chills. Super 8 is the kind of fun old-fashioned filmmaking that often gets swallowed up by CGI effects.  It’s fast and fun and frothy, and yet surprisingly suspenseful at times.  There is nothing you have never seen here before, but what is here is pretty choice.

And just for the record, the super 8 “movie” that the kids were so passionate and determined about filming – which is shown over the closing credits – is just gawdawful. I know that’s supposed to be the point, but wow! If that is a supposed to be a winking view into JJ Abrams’ formative filmmaking experiences, he’s come a long, long way as a filmmaker.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 20, 2011.

 

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Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 20, 2011.