A majestic ode to Spielbergian cinema, a film for the next generation to hold dear with its splendid sense of adventure and powerfully paced action sequences. Revolving around a group of kids who, whilst filming a Romero influenced zombie flick on their Super 8, witness a train crash that leads to ominous goings on in their town. Abrams captures a sense of awe and excitement that, along with the growing pains and high energy of the kids, reels the viewer into their situations.
The movie begins on a sad note, introducing the character of Joe Lamb (played with self-assurance and charm by Joel Courtney) who is the son of the local deputy sheriff (Kyle Chandler) and a cast and crew member of the film team led by his bossy best friend Charles. The rest of the team are made up by the troubled Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) who plays the leading lady, Cary a kid who has a penchant for pyrotechnics and wisecracks, Martin a bespectacled leading man who vomits at random intervals and Preston as their ever faithful extra. Setting a film within a film is a great way to move the story along and put the characters into unusual situations.
This little love letter to Spielberg and to the era Abrams grew up in is so involving and engaging you can’t help but care for the characters. The glistening light and the flickering sound of the Super 8 camera, the little details in the kids bedrooms, from the Star Wars figures, Halloween and Dawn of the Dead posters, Super 8 filmmaker magazine to the Zenith electronics alarm clock makes it an authentic and nostalgic piece of cinema. All the technology, memorabilia, and clothing are so lovingly re-created. Following round a bunch of kids who drive bikes around in a summer whirl and whose main vocabulary includes "holy shit", "bitchin’" and "mint" brings 1979 screaming onto the screen.
Abrams manages to put his own Lost stamp on the film, with found video footage explanations as a way to move the story along and Michael Giacchino’s fine hand composing some uplifting musical moments. Adding to the seventies ambience are some tunes from the likes of Wings and The Knack, of which a brilliant bonding sing-a-long moment of My Sharona is bellowed out by the kids. The setting is immersive and filled with the pop culture and fashion of the times.
The mysterious monster is presented in the best way possible, just like in Spielberg’s Jaws, the viewer is teased and tension is built well as the presence is kept hidden by well-placed bushes, spinning gas station signs, and barely glimpsed through rear view mirrors. The presence is incidental to the emotionally charged quest of our adventurous heroes. Which leads me to my only criticisms; the ending feels slightly less well thought out and invested in compared to the rest of the film and the monster is not original enough in appearance.
For the most part Super 8 is closest to Spielberg’s E.T. with the meeting and understanding between naive youth and an alien presence. The adults’ narrative in the film take second place to the kids storyline, with most adults playing a parent or a member of the armed forces who, in true Spielberg style, are an unwelcome presence. The kids spirits are indomitable and the strength of their acting combined with the realistic dialogue and interaction lifts this film into something special. It is Joe’s determination in the face of adversity that packs the punches in the final part of the film and the childlike feeling of invincibility is depicted so well through Joel Courtney’s heartfelt performance.
It works on many different levels; as science fiction, coming of age, and as a period piece. A mysterious presence, intriguing circumstances, a strong cast of unknowns and a perfect blend of cinematic wonder and youthful energy makes this the summer blockbuster of the year so far. Make sure you stay in your seats after the credits roll.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10