Friday, April 20, 2012
Mystery, Sci-fi, Thriller, 112 minutes
Directed by J. J. Abrams
Starring Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths and Kyle Chandler
Although it's listed as a science fiction thriller, Super 8 is an ideal family movie. The main characters are children and we are given enough information to identify with them. Even if we weren't like any of them ourselves, we almost certainly went to school with similar children.
The movie feels like a combination of Stand by Me and some of the best Steven Spielberg stories, such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The story feels like it could have been written by Stephen King and contains a slice of small-town America, combined with a fantasy element.
The opening scene mentions an accident at a steel mill in which Elizabeth Lamb is killed. Her husband, Jackson (Chandler), is a deputy, and her son, Joe (Courtney), is helping his friends make a movie. We spend a lot of time with these children and events are seen from their viewpoint. The group enlists Alice (Fanning) to play a role in their movie and she impresses them with her superior acting ability. Joe starts to develop feelings for her and it's this relationship which drives the story.
One of the most memorable scenes comes early in the movie. While the kids are filming, a train approaches. Charles (Griffiths), who is the director, wants to shoot a scene while the train is passing. A truck drives onto the tracks in front of the train and causes a massive accident. The scene is spectacular and will rock your home theater. After surviving the accident, the kids notice a carriage on its side and something is pounding on the walls from within.
That's the setup and I don't think there's any need to ruin things by giving away any more of the story. Courtney and Fanning give strong performances and their developing friendship is believable. Alice's father is a source of conflict and Joe's father has a role to play in the safety of the town. Part of the fun is watching events unfold and trying to solve the mystery. What is causing these things to happen? Why are people and animals disappearing?
Super 8 evokes a special feeling. It's partly nostalgia as we remember friendships in our childhood, and the movie feels as if it belongs in the 70s or early 80s. Technology wasn't as advanced as it is now and there is a closeness between the people in the town that is rare to see in today's world. The friendship between the children makes everything work and it feels authentic.
Although the early part of the movie relies on special effects, there is a real story here with a little depth. If you like Spielberg's classic movies, you'll probably enjoy what Abrams has done. If you were wondering whether Abrams includes lens flares like he did in Star Trek, they are present throughout the movie.
Overall score 4/5
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