In the summer of 1979, a group of friends in a small Ohio town witness a catastrophic train crash while making a super 8 movie and soon suspect that it was not an accident. Shortly after, unusual disappearances and inexplicable events begin to take place in town, and the local Deputy tries to uncover the truth – something more terrifying than any of them could have imagined.
Has J.J. Abrams made his best film? Or one that almost could be?
While J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 features an alien, it isn’t about aliens. And that’s a good thing.
It’s about a young kid realizing that grief isn’t something you get over, it’s something you learn to live with. It’s about fathers and sons, and the conflict that comes when the former struggles to relate to the latter. All of this is filtered through a very nostalgic, very Spielbergian lens that earns all its heartfelt moments. That is until the movie’s more sci-fi trappings push their way onto the narrative, with “Area 51 this” and “alien that.”
At that point, the movie’s origins as two separate stories, that were combined into one, reveal themselves – and neither one is capable of seamlessly merging with the other. The end result is a mix tape of set-pieces from other films, such as E.T. and The Thing, that Abrams grafts his narrative upon with varying degrees of success.
Super 8′s biggest success centers on how it captures life in Smalltown, U.S.A. in 1979. It tells the story of a group of teens making a zombie movie in their backyard when their camera catches a massive train wreck on film. Something from Area 51 escapes from the wreckage, wreaks havoc on a local town, and the kids find themselves experiencing events that will change them forever.
Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), the film-within-the-film’s makeup artist, is our hero throughout all of this. Joe is still processing the recent death of his mother, as his father, Jackson (the underrated Kyle Chandler), wrangles the town crisis as local sheriff. As people and things disappear, the rift between Jackson and his son widens. This conflict begets Super 8′s best scenes, especially one particular argument where Joe realizes that his dad is more adept at caring for the town than him.
This relationship unfolds as the kids get closer to discovering what the hell was on that train, and what the military is up to. This section of the movie is a lot of fun and well-crafted. However, it’s filled with one too many Starlog Magazine references that play a bit too “Inside Baseball” for the E.T. audience Super 8 wants to win over. In between the mystery and suspense, an unlikely romance develops between Joe and his first crush, Alice Dainard. Alice, the zombie film’s lead, is also the daughter of the man indirectly responsible for the death of Joe’s mom.
Alice is the last person Jackson wants Joe to see, and she emerges as the only one Joe wants to be with as the alien threat zeroes in on Alice. In these moments, Elle Fanning emerges as an actor as accomplished as her older sister, Dakota. She sells her and Joe’s relationship – from love at first sight to more perilous moments – effortlessly.
It’s a testament to Abrams’ direction that we fall for these young teens as hard as they do for each other. Abrams gives each character the right amount of personality to make them endearing, which pays off when things start exploding and people start dying. Here, the movie pushes its PG-13 rating to a place that would make Steven Spielberg blush. Suburbia explodes into a war zone as tanks roll over playgrounds and sand boxes, for reasons unclear outside of it looking cool.
Foggy motivations for the aforementioned set-pieces, coupled with one-too-many obvious Exposition Scenes, rockets the movie toward a very uneven climax, one that features an alien that Abrams’ script spends too much time keeping a secret and not enough time fleshing out as a character. Had the alien’s arc better paralleled Joe’s, as both share a similar pain, we’d have a great movie instead of one with moments of greatness in it.
Super 8 really wants to earn its place on your shelf next to E.T., and at times that desire is distracting, made more so by the discordance between its story threads. When Super 8 works, though, it really works, earnestly and without manipulation. It’s a love letter to a certain type of genre filmmaking; it’s an original idea, inspired by the original ideas of others, with a strong emotional core that’s hard to find in current Hollywood movies.
[media url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCRQQCKS7go" width="675"]
|Title:||Super 8 (2011)|
|Leading Cast:||Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich, Gabriel Basso, Joel Courtney, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Amanda Michalka|
|Genres:||Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller|
|Age Rating:||PG 13|
|Running Time:||112 min|
|Release Date:||29 July 2011 (South Africa)|