Do you remember being young and making movies with your Super 8 camera? Yeah, I don’t either. Either way, this was a prevalent activity for kids before the digital era. It was a simpler time, but it had its challenges. According to the movies, the late-70’s and early 80’s were very busy as far as alien invasions. ‘Super 8’ is a walk down memory lane.
It’s 1979 in the fictional Ohio town of Lillian. Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is a 13 year old boy who spends his time making a zombie film with his friends Charles (Riley Griffiths), Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso), and Cary (Ryan Lee). They use the Super 8 camera that Joe’s father, Deputy Jack Lamb (Kyle Chandler) has at home. The story is really Charles’ vision as he wants to enter it into the local film festival. He convinces everyone that the main character should have a wife to help the audience connect with him. This calls for a slightly older girl in school named Alice (Elle Fanning) who Charles thinks would be perfect.
The kids have to shoot a scene at the railroad station one night, so they all sneak out and begin setting up. A train appears in the distance and they rush to incorporate it into the shot. As it hurtles by, Joe notices a pickup truck driving onto the tracks. The ensuing crash causes the train to derail in a fiery scene and something escapes from one of the cars. No one notices that right away, though. Everyone is more interested in discovering why their biology teacher, Mr. Woodward (Glynn Turman) drove onto the tracks. He is miraculously alive, by the way. Their teacher has a gun with him and warns them not to tell anybody what they saw. As the kids run away, the U.S. Air Force arrives on the scene.
What the heck has been unleashed? What was Mr. Woodward so afraid of? Will their movie ever be completed?
There has been so much hype about this movie, it is easy to dismiss it. That said, the less you really know about it, and the less you read about it, the more you’ll like it.
The word ‘nostalgic’ has gotten thrown around quite a bit with this. A lot of that probably has to do with Steven Spielberg’s involvement (as a producer). He has given us so many classic family science fiction films that came out long enough ago to be able to say that they have stood the test of time. Many people consider ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and ‘E.T.’ essential to their home movie collections. Writer/director J.J. Abrams actually achieves something startlingly close to those movies’ magic. This is very reminiscent of those and there is even a little ‘Transformers’ (which Spielberg also executive produced) and ‘Cloverfield’ (which Abrams produced) action sprinkled in there, minus the stupidity of the latter two films.
Filtering the story through the eyes of young teens means that almost all of the viewers can relate to the perspective. It also simplifies the narrative by not over-explaining or showing much of the creature at all. Of course, by the end, we see it up close and fully understand what is going on. As an added bonus, the story ends at the exact moment that it should. No dull epilogue here!
One of the most impressive things about this is that Abrams is able to coax fabulous performances out of a largely unknown cast (fine, Elle Fanning is sort of known). Usually, producers feel the need to include at least one or two recognizable names to put people in the seats. Abrams and Spielberg are enough to sell this on their own. Besides, when you see an actor that you are overly familiar with, sometimes that becomes distracting. It’s a case of being made extra aware that they are playing a role. When you don’t know anyone on the screen, it is often easier to buy them as characters because that is all you know them as. A wise choice indeed and perhaps this could launch a few careers.
Special features include: behind ‘Super 8,’ creating the creature, and commentary.
With a few notable exceptions, Steven Spielberg hasn’t given any indication that he can recapture his past cinematic mojo. At this point, perhaps he is most effective in less of a hands-on capacity. Abrams certainly seems to be up to the task of carrying the torch.
So many films seem to aspire to these heights but they lack the necessary resources (money, talent, story, etc) to succeed. In ‘Super 8’ we have a film that reminds us why we loved those old movies in the first place.
For once, you have a reason to sit through the credits! You actually get to see the kids’ zombie short film.
Rated PG-13 111 minutes 2011
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When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!