As a film-lover who first went to a movie theater in the year 2001, I have sometimes wished to see an 80’s film on the big screen. J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 is close enough.
Super 8 is a film that one thinks might be Abrams’ tribute to the early works of Steven Spielberg. Truly, such a genuinely suspenseful and exhilarating film is something that hasn’t been made in several years. I’m certain I would have felt some nostalgia when seeing the film, if I had actually existed during the 80’s.
The film is set in Lillian, Ohio (which is fictional) and our story begins with a young boy, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), mourning his mother’s death. He observes his father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), arresting Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard), the man who is in some way responsible for the mother’s death.
Four months later we see Joe along with his friends Charles (Riley Griffiths), Cary (Ryan Lee), Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Louis’ daughter Alice (Elle Fanning), as they go to a train depot where they intend to shoot a scene for Charles’ zombie-film, which they shoot on Super 8-film. As they’re shooting, Joe becomes more and more impressed by Alice’s acting abilities, as she flawlessly delivers her lines as a freight train roars past behind her. Suddenly, however, he spots a pick-up truck, driving in front of the aforementioned train, causing it to derail, in what is one of the most impressive crash-scenes I’ve seen in a film.
The kids survive the disaster and discover interesting things in the wreckage – a bunch of strange-looking, metal cubes, for instance. They also find that their biology-teacher Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman) was the man driving the truck; after discovering a mysterious map in his hand, the kids are startled as he wakes up and tells them to run away from the site. As the kids flee, the U.S. Air Force arrives and take Woodward away. It turns out that they owned the train.
The kids decide to remain silent about what happened that night and instead keep focusing on their movie – the derailment was caught on film and they intend to use the footage in their zombie-flick. But strange things start to occur in the town; something is attracting the attention of all the dogs, something is causing the power to go out, something is abducting the townsfolk, something is causing complete mayhem. Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmeric) of the U.S. Air Force tries to make Woodward tell him what he knows about the creature. Woodward only tells him that he is part of the creature, just as the creature is part of him.
Meanwhile, we are provided, of course, with scenes of character development and interactions among the children. Joe and Alice begin to grow feelings towards one another and at one point Joe even shares with her some of his old films, from when his mother was still alive. Alice still feels that her father is indirectly responsible for her death. It is a heart-warming and beautifully shot scene.
J.J. Abrams proves to me here how good he is – he creates interesting characters and great suspense, which had me pretty much staring at the screen for the entirety of the film, just to see what was going to happen to these people next. He also uses his camera well, creating intensity with it during the action scenes and emotion during the sad scenes. He does a good job, is what I’m trying to say.
The film looks new and fresh and brings to mind films like Cloverfield and District 9, but in some of its visuals and storytelling it brings to mind old classics, such as the ones of Spielberg, as I mentioned earlier. I think Roger Ebert put it best when he called the film “nostalgia for a style of filmmaking, when shell-shocked young audiences were told a story and not pounded over the head with aggressive action”. There is action in the film, though, but it is great action; particularly the train-crash sequence which is right up there with the plane-crash in the Nicolas Cage-movie Knowing.
Super 8 offers us good characters, great acting from both kids and adults, sensational action, a suspenseful plot and a very great first two acts. It is around act three, I think, where thngs start going downhill; when the film goes from Cloverfield to District 9 (even if I think District 9 is better, but that’s beside the point). I wont reveal too much, but I will say that it is often more interesting to think “I wonder what the monster looks like” than thinking “Ah, okay”.
So yes, Super 8 is a very good, charming and exciting film which I encourage several people to see, especially those who miss “them good ol’ days” if you know what I mean. It could have ended better, I suppose, but that’s not a huge problem, for me at least.