Super 8 (2011)

Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills, and Ron Eldard

(Brian Dunster, this one is for you sir!)

What is it about films that show kids from small towns cycling in the sunshine that just tugs at the heart-strings? Steven Spielberg was a master at that kind of thing, the likes of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, forever imprinted in so many people’s memories as purely innocent entertainment at it’s best. I make this comparison because Super 8 is, more than anything else, an homage to these films.

The Plot:
Four months after the death of his mother, Joe (Courtney) has just started his summer vacation and is working on his friend Charles’ (Griffiths) zombie movie. While rehearsing late one night at a remote train station with the newest member of their crew, Alice (Fanning), the boys witness a massive train wreck, which the capture on film. Shortly afterwards, a series of unusual events begin to unfold in town, and they realise that something may have escaped from the train wreck…

It really is difficult to get the kind of innocent fun that was so common in films of the 80’s. Nowadays, kids are far too advanced and computer savvy to be portrayed convincingly as the once were. They are portrayed as young adults, the likes of Hit Girl from Kick Ass pops into mind. It is a wise choice then for Abrams to set the film in 1979, an era in which so many of these kinds of films were released.

And yet, Abrams does a good job of not making the kids too unbelievable. In this modern age, it is common enough to hear the odd swear out of kids, so it’s a relief he adds this in to make it that much more realistic. And the kids all have a great dynamic! Each of the kids has his own little quirk to make him distinctive from the rest, whether it’s the intellectual, the pyromaniac, the fat bossy kid or whichever. Every one of them plays a role and none of them feel underused which is fantastic.

Courtney does a really good job as Joe, easily relatable and likeable, even more so as he develops throughout the film. Fanning also puts in some surprisingly impressive work as the female lead. The relationship between these two is a primary focus in the film. It is well staged and they work well together, but it lacks a little bit of punch as the film comes to a close. In fact the really emotional scenes come more from the relationship between Joe and his father (Chandler). Unfortunately there are far too few of these scenes, yet they are still powerful enough to leave quite an impact. Especially impressive is a final, almost wordless scene between the two, in which emotion is expressed powerfully through actions.

The creature itself, which escapes from the train wreck, is a somewhat muddled affair. For the majority of the film, it isn’t seen at all, and this affords it an impressive¬† sense of mystique. It is an ominous presence, emblematic in its absence of a more poignant danger, that of growing up. The fear of leaving one’s childhood behind is thrust upon Joe, and other members of the crew, with the arrival of the creature. However, this loses some of its emotional effect once the director is comfortable with showing the creature casually.

Overall:

There are slight grievances to be had with Super 8, as listed above. It is somewhat unfortunate, but, to be clear, in no way a hindrance to the film, because it is still a very touching and exciting experience. The story is a moving one, enough to stir emotion in even the toughest of old salts. And there is enough action to keep the majority happy. Abrams expresses a clear love of film with this feature. What you can expect here is an homage to these films of old which, although not light on action or comedy, still stresses the importance of a good story and powerful emotion.

Awful Rating: 8/10

“She used to look at me… this way, like really look… and I just knew I was there… that I existed.” – Joe

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Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 12:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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