Not only is “Super 8” — a collaboration of director J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek”) and producer Steven Spielberg (”Saving Private Ryan”) — reminiscent of great movies of the past, it also strives to be a film that will inspire movies of the future.
In the late 1970s, in the small town of Lillian, Ohio, a young teenager Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) has just lost his mother in a steel-plant accident. To further complicate matters, he isn’t very close to his father Jackson (Kyle Chandler), the deputy sheriff of the town. Joe’s friends Charles (Ryan Lee), Cary (Ryan Lee), Preston (Zach Mills) and Martin Gabriel Basso) are working to make a zombie movie for an upcoming film festival. They ask a popular girl, Alice (Elle Fanning), to be in their movie at last minute and she surprisingly says “yes.”
One night, while filming with their Super 8 camera next to train tracks, they witness a large military transport train collide with a vehicle that drove onto the tracks. The group barely escapes the wreck with their lives, and in the aftermath and rubble, Joe sees something break free from an overturned transport car. After receiving an ominous warning from the driver of the vehicle that caused the crash, they run away as the military and air force show up to contain the situation.
Back in town they vow to never speak of what happened or that they were even there. As the military begins to expand its search, strange occurrences happen in the small town — dogs go missing along with a few citizens, electrical equipment begins to malfunction and the power for the town goes in and out. Jackson goes from deputy to acting sheriff for the town after the sheriff also disappears. When he goes to the military to ask questions, a man named Nelec (Noah Emmerich) assures him that there were no hazardous or dangerous chemicals onboard the train and dismisses him. As things in the town grow progressively worse and the citizens become more uneasy, it is apparent that something strange is occurring there. As the group of teenagers goes on the search for some answers, the military becomes more aggressive and begins taking citizens in order to protect an old conspiracy. Will this group of friends uncover the secrets before it’s too late for the town of Lillian?
If I had to describe “Super 8,” I would call it a love-letter to the genre films that defined generations and a nod to blockbuster films of yesteryear. Abrams, who grew up on films made by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Richard Donner, makes that apparent in how the story looks and feels. There are many great references to past classics, such as: the gang’s adventure to uncover a secret (“The Goonies”); the absolute wow factor from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”); out-of-focus monster mayhem (“Cloverfield”); and, lastly, a boy’s journey to self discovery (“E.T.”). Although this film is riddled with references, it doesn’t stop feeling like an Abrams film — complete with patented lens flares.
The movie as a whole was wonderful and exciting to watch. The train-crash sequence was jaw dropping on an IMAX screen, and there were explosion that would make Michael Bay proud. The movie is at its best not when dealing with the creature but when it is showing the relationships grow and mature and the heart behind them.
Joe’s conflicting emotions in dealing with his recently-deceased mother and his faltering relationship with his father are one of the primary relationships focused on in the film. Another budding relationship that takes center stage is the Romeo and Juliet romance between Joe and Alice. Jackson blames Alice’s father (Ron Eldard) for the accident that claimed his wife’s life and therefore neither father wants their children to be friends. This, plus the diverse interactions between the rest of the teens, really brings them to life and helps them to leap off the screen and become truly multi-dimensional characters.
The film’s use of comedy — and scares that come out of nowhere — were also highlights for me. One particular source of comedy was Cary (played by Ryan Lee). No matter the situation or how much peril the children are in, leave it to him to make some reference to his fireworks or wanting to blow something up. There are a few peaceful moments that make you jump as things fly across the screen or there is a thunderous noise. These were fun moments that startled me and those around me.
The movie does have its faults. I wasn’t a fan of the look of the creature once they finally showed it and the ending could have been tweaked a bit, but as a whole it is a fun, exciting summer escapist film that will thrill you, and is fun for all. Yes, there is some carnage and bloodshed, but the film still will deliver joy and fun to people of varying ages. Abrams and Spielberg have crafted a well-rounded film that feels like it could have truly been made in the past with effects from today.
I could talk about certain aspects of this film all day, but to keep you surprised when you see it, I will end this review here. Also, don’t forget to stay during the credits as they show the finished film the teenagers were shooting at the beginning of the film and it is quite funny.
“Super 8” is open in select theaters now and opens in wide release tomorrow. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use.
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