Aug 10 2011 by Ian Bunting, Airdrie & Coatbridge
SUPER 8 tells the story of how a group of friends including Joe (Joel Courtney) and Alice (Elle Fanning) get more then they bargained for in the summer of 1979 when they film a low budget zombie movie.
After witnessing a mysterious train crash, the kids start to notice strange events in their small town of Lillian, Ohio, and are determined to find out the truth behind the creepy phenomenon.
This seems to be the summer where blockbusters get taken back to the past (X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger) and Super 8 works superbly as an E.T. for the Twitter and Facebook generation.
Steven Spielberg is on producing duties and director J.J. Abrams makes no bones about the fact that Super 8 is his homage to the aforementioned extra terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Abrams (Star Trek), also on script duties, is one of my favourite modern directors and Super 8 also plays like a companion piece to his 2008 produced monster hit Cloverfield.
The story is excellent. We start with a death then set on a journey through broken families (a Spielberg trait), childhood crushes and an ever deepening mystery involving strange cubes, disappearing dogs and power outages.
Abrams’ characters feel real and it helps that there’s no ‘big names’ in the cast to dominate proceedings.
The dynamic between the teens is sublime and reminiscent of eighties favourites Stand by Me and The Goonies.
They curse... a lot! One has a poster of the film Halloween on his wall but most importantly they know how to act.
Courtney, in his acting bow, and Elle ‘sister of Dakota’ Fanning are standouts; the latter is a revelation.
But Riley Griffiths (Charles) is terrific too. The others, Zach Mills (Preston), Gabriel Basso (Martin) and Ryan Lee (Cary), aren’t required to do much but still play their part, mainly as comic relief.
Abrams brings his seventies setting to life with several zooms, tracking and tilting camera shots and projectionist footage of Joe and his mum and historical documentation of the ‘mystery’s’ origins strike a chord.
Three Mile Island, cassette tapes, and weed smoking are all referenced and there’s a funny moment when one irate local at a town meeting blames the mysterious events on the Russians.
From the eye-opening explosive train crash that ends in a foreboding warning, you are pulled into the lives of these people all the way to the end.
There are a few things, though, that prevent Super 8 from reaching classic status.
Inevitably for a homage, everything’s a bit familiar (the Big Bad military, a sequence near the end that’s like ‘Cloverfield in Suburbia’) and the ending is steeped in too much ‘Spielbergian schmaltz.’
But make no mistake about it, Super 8 is full of heart and adventure with a young cast on scintillating form.
Oh, and what’s the film’s mystery? Now that would be telling...
Rating - 8 out of 10.