Review: Super 8

Super 8
8 10

PLOT: Circa 1979, a group of small town kids making a zombie flick, accidentally capture a massive train crash on their super 8mm camera. When the air force descends on the town, determined to cover up the accident, they realize that something more sinister is afoot.

REVIEW: It’s FINALLY here. Yes folks, J.J Abrams’ long-awaited tribute to Amblin-era Steven Spielberg is finally hitting the silver screen. It’s been a full year since that incredible train-crash trailer lit up screens, along with the imaginations of many a film geek, including myself, and the wait has been AGONIZING.

So is it worth the wait? For the most part yes- but with a caveat. SUPER 8 really is just the film Abrams has been saying it would be all-along; an old fashioned tribute to the Amblin films my generation of film brats grew up with. There’s a whole lot of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND/ E.T here, with key elements from JAWS sprinkled in, along with shout-outs to other, non-Spielberg Amblin films like THE GOONIES, and COCOON.

However, SUPER 8 is not the game changer some have been expecting it to be. One of the dangerous things about selling a film as mysteriously as Abrams has, with trailers that give away pretty much nothing about the film, is that expectations are going to be sky-high, as they are here. On that level, it’s bound to disappoint some, if expectations aren’t kept in check. This is not the second coming of golden-age Steven Spielberg, and this is no JAWS, E.T or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. Why? For me, it comes down to this: in those films, Spielberg was being Spielberg, and no one else. As great a job as J.J Abrams does here, this is homage, with making a full-on tribute to Spielberg, much like Spielberg himself did with A.I to Kubrick (although this is WAY more successful). Luckily, if any director is going to make a feature-length Spielberg-homage, Abrams is the guy to do it.

SUPER 8 is essentially a coming-of-age film, with some hard, visceral sci-fi mixed in. I think by now a lot of people know what the overall premise of the film is, but on the off chance that some readers don’t, I’m not going to spoil it here. Suffice to say, the sci-fi aspect has been done before, but that doesn’t keep it from being loads of fun. However, true to Amblin form, the sci-fi aspect of the film is really the B-story, with the heart of the movie being young Joe Lamb’s (Joel Courteney) coming-of-age.

As far as films about kids go, SUPER 8 is probably the best of its kind since STAND BY ME. The kids in SUPER 8 are real and relatable, despite the insanity of the situation they’re caught up in. Each of the kids is fully fleshed out, and three-dimensional, and viewers will likely deeply identify with the kids, as I did. One thing I loved was how foul-mouthed the kids are, particularly Riley Griffiths as the wanna-be filmmaker, and Ryan Lee as the team pyromaniac. I loved this part of the film, as that’s the way I talked when I was a kid (STAND BY ME is the only other film I’ve seen to get this right).

Central to the tale is Joe’s relationship with his newly widowed father, the town’s deputy sheriff, as played by the great Kyle Chandler. This is a VERY Spielberg-ian touch, as the relationship between father and sons (or lack thereof) has been a hallmark of his right from the beginning. Chandler’s got a real Martin Brody-style role as the skeptical, pragmatic father who has to step up in order to protect his family, and he’s phenomenal. That said, the film belongs to kids, especially Joel Courteney, and Elle Fanning as Joe’s burgeoning crush.

There’s a scene early on between Courteney and Fanning that’s downright magical, where he watches her act out a schlocky scene in his buddy Charles’ movie. This scene had me grinning ear-to-ear, and is one of the finest pieces of acting, from a child or otherwise, that I’ve seen this year. Courteney’s really on the same level here as someone like Henry Thomas in E.T, or Sean Astin in THE GOONIES, but Fanning- wow- this kid is something else. As good as she was in Sofia Coppola’s SOMEWHERE, she’s even better here, and possibly deserving of Oscar-consideration. This could have been the typical idealized, childhood-crush role, but Abrams and Fanning really make this feel like more than that. In the scenes between Courteney and Fanning it seems like we’re watching more than young infatuation- we’re watching young love. In that aspect, Abrams really knocked this out of the park.

As for the sci-fi part of the film, that’s actually the aspect of the film I probably liked the least, as it was the only part of SUPER 8 that seemed somewhat recycled (albeit exceedingly well-done). However, the sci-fi plot does allow Abrams to stage a few action set-pieces that offer some of the best carnage I’ve seen in a while. The big train-crash sequence is extraordinary, and begs to be seen of the biggest screen possible, and with the sound cranked up to 11.

Keeping with the Spielberg flavor of the film, we get a very John Williams-flavored score by Michael Giacchino. I think Giacchino’s a great composer, but, like his work in LET ME IN, while good, the score gets a little too insistent for my taste, underscoring each and every big scene, and making the film more maudlin then it needs to be at times.

And, being an Abrams film, we get lens flares. LOTS of lens flares. Possibly hundreds. Then again, I guess that’s an Abrams trademark by now (Spielberg used them too), so take em’ or leave em’. I like them, although they’re a tad overdone, in what I suppose was an effort to resemble Vilmos Zsigmond’s lensing of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

While I had some minor issues with SUPER 8 (including some plot holes that, in an effort to avoid spoilers, I won’t address here), they didn’t really hamper my enjoyment of the film too much. It wasn’t the game-changer some are hoping it’ll be, but it’s nonetheless an extremely entertaining, affecting and nostalgic family adventure. This is a must-see folks.

Extra Tidbit: Stay-put during the credits. You won't be sorry.
Source: JoBlo.com



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