Review: Super 8

Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler

Director: J.J. Abrams

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

Summer, 1979, in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. While 13-year-old Joe Lamb and his friends are making a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera they witness, and barely survive, a horrific train crash. Shortly afterwards, strange things start happening in the town and Joe begins to suspect that something less than human was on that train.

One suspects that J.J. Abrams always fancied himself as a natural successor to Steven Spielberg, and this collaboration with the Grandmaster of fantastical cinema really does go a long way to proving that assumption true. Abrams, of the same generation as this reviewer, grew up during the heyday of Spielberg and his ‘movie brat’ contemporaries and Super 8 is nothing less than a beautifully crafted love letter to those magical cinema experiences of the late seventies and early eighties.

In paying homage to his hero and, in this instance, mentor, Abrams gives us what almost amounts to a greatest hits of Spielberg themes. Small town Americana, broken families, kids who are much smarter than the adults, an oppressive military and a heart as big as the alien intruder abroad in suburbia. All are present, correct and served with the kind of loving nostalgia that could only be brought to life by someone whose inner-child was there at the time. And, in turn, it’s impossible for the inner-child of the viewer not to be carried back to that sense of wonder which permeated the movies of that time.

The young cast are uniformly excellent, and Abrams certainly seems to share Spielberg’s knack for bringing the best out of his adolescent actors. Joel Courtney, as the reserved, wide-eyed Joe and Elle Fanning, as the confident, sassy Alice are both engaging and sympathetic leads. And if the adults sometimes feel a little one-dimensional it’s only because this is not really their movie. They’re just there to make the kids look smart. Which, of course, they do.

Abrams manages to bring his own style to proceedings while still shooting the movie and moving the camera as if he were the young Spielberg. Indeed, it often feels as if you are watching Spielberg’s lost movie, made somewhere between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., but with shades of Cloverfield thrown in.

You think these haircuts suck, boys. Be thankful the movie wasn’t set in 1985.

However, it’s this overwhelming nostalgia, and accurate imitation of a style of moviemaking long gone that will probably be the making or breaking of Super 8 for much of its audience. Many of a younger generation will doubtless find it a little too passive and a little too otherworldly for their liking, whereas those a generation behind them will be reminded of a time when movies didn’t need to smack you round the face, or leap out of the screen, to bring into their embrace, enthralled and enchanted, for two hours of whimsical fun.

Rating – 5 Stars

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22 people thought reading “Review: Super 8” would be a good idea. Stranger still, they left messages...

  1. Dan O.

    Abrams remembers the simple rule that a majority of his contemporaries have forgotten: action and mayhem have meaning only when an audience cares about the people trapped within the maelstrom. And I cared for all of these characters, even that drunk dad that gets arrested in the beginning. Nice Review!

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      Thanks, Dan. You’re absolutely right, of course. It’s a failing that brings down most modern horror movies, since they’re filled with bland characters whose peril we do not care to share.

      Reply
  2. Custard

    Rich, I haven’t read this yet.

    I am saying HI, but I am seeing the film tonight so will come back tomorrow and read after I have written my review. OK?

    C

    Reply
      1. Custard

        OK I have watched and reviewed the film now. I have also read your review and we came to some really similar thoughts. I loved how well crafted the kids were, how the addition of a girl in the mix completely left them blushing, also how this wasn’t taken too far as well, just a crush. I really enjoyed the film and gave it a good 9/10
        :-)

        Reply
  3. Castor

    I thought Super 8 was pretty solid but I didn’t quite love it. It felt like it didn’t know whether to be a monster movie or a coming-of-age tale, The nostalgia and mood recreation is excellent but I think Abrams over-directs and over-edits the film. It’s too shiny and fancy for its own good ;)

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      I think over-editing and over-directing is a criticism which has been aimed at Spielberg in his time, so I guess that’s a fitting critique of Super 8. ;-)

      Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      Thanks, Deborah. Trust me, I have plenty to say about that time period. Just ask my son, who has become quite proficient at rolling his eyes whenever the topic comes up. ;-)

      Reply
  4. rtm

    Wow, a full 5 stars! I like this one but not as much as you. I do agree that the young cast did an amazing job, especially Elle Fanning.

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      I had a feeling I would raise eyebrows with the full five stars. I just couldn’t refuse it after the high the movie left me on. :-D

      Reply
      1. rtm

        Oh, that’s totally understandable Rich, I mean after all the movie the kids are making is about zombies :D I’d have given First Class 5 stars too if it weren’t for January Jones.

        Reply
        1. Richard Post author

          I’m sometimes free and easy with my five star ratings, but I remain unapologetic. ;-)

          I have to say, I would have given First Class 5 stars if it wasn’t for Fassbender’s wayward accent. Was he supposed to be German, English or Irish? It seemed to change from scene to scene.

          Reply
  5. Helen

    Although I’m narrowly on the too young to feel the nostalgia side. my reaction is more in line with the generation before (ie, nostalgic for “a time when movies didn’t need to smack you round the face, or leap out of the screen, to bring into their embrace”). I did enjoy the kids’ camaraderie, the child actors’ performances, and the affectionate depiction of small town America of yesteryear.

    I have to say that my favorite part, by far, was watching the budding filmmakers take advantage of the crisis. Their zombie/hardboiled detective short film was the perfect capstone to the movie.

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      I agree. That closing movie as the credits rolled made me laugh out loud. I remembered movies that were released on video around that time which were actually that bad! :-D

      Reply
  6. Dan

    …it’s just ahead of Rise of the Planet of the Apes in my to-see at cinema list. Things are looking good for the next few weeks! ;)

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      Enjoy, Dan! I’m not that fussed about Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I must confess. After the riots here, it’s a little too familiar. ;-)

      Reply

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