Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Elle Fanning, Amanda Michalka, Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Gabriel Basso
SYNOPSIS: In a small Ohio town in 1979, a group of friends set out to shoot and star in a super 8 film movie about zombies. After witnessing a horrific train derailment during one of their shoots, they observe strange events and disappearances, spurring them to investigate the weird phenomenon.
Writer and director J.J. Abrams, the man who helped bring television's Alias, Lost and Fringe to life and revitalized a Star Trek film franchise with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, comes back with the tight-lipped, character-driven, super secretive Super 8. Cast with established familiar faces like Elle Fanning (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Noah Emmerich (Frequency) and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), up-and-coming kid stars Ryan Lee (Shorts) and Zach Mills (Changeling), and newcomers like Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths, Super 8 and Abrams strive to keep the heart of the film on the story, characters and an unseen menace. Super 8 is a film the way Spielberg used to make films in that era.
What do we know going into Super 8? A group of kids are trying to make a super 8 movie and witness a massive train transport derailment during one of their night shoots. We know the military gets to town quickly due to "something" that may have gotten out of one of the train cargo cars. Strange disappearances and happenings abound throughout the small Ohio town - but from who or what? Is the Spielberg and Abrams name and allure of the unknown enough to get people to the theater?
If you like E.T. - The Extraterrestrial and Cloverfield, and grew up enjoying 70s hits like Jaws and 80s hits like The Goonies, then Super 8 is the movie for you. Part sci-fi creature fest, part secretive late "cold war" style government clamp down, part curious kids leaping into harm's way to find out the truth and protect each other, Abrams brings his anamorphic lens flares from the future space of Star Trek to the late 1970s and the small town of Lillian, Ohio, Earth. Joe Courtney's character Joe Lamb is both Elijah Wood and Henry Thomas, rolled into one. The banter of the kids Joe (Courtney), Cary (Ryan Lee), Preston (Zach Mills), Charles (Riley Griffiths), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and, especially, Alice (Elle Fanning) spouts out both realistic and juvenile. Courtney and Fanning are brilliant in their hopefulness and in their secret despairs. Opposite to the hopefulness of the kids are Joe's father Jackson Lamb (Klye Chandler) and Alice's father Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard) who shoulder the aftermath and animosity of an accident at the local steel mill that opens the film, their actions distancing them from their own children.
The pace of Super 8 is slow, but steady. Action highlights parts of each act, with the train derailment that the kids narrowly escape, the discovery of what is vandalizing the town of Lillian, and the pursuit of the Air Force to detain and capture what it is they let get loose. All the while, the children revolve around the center of it all. Even when the story slows, the characters and cinematography push the film forward. Every shot is handled with care, demonstrating Abrams craft with the camera. The gathering at the Lamb household, for instance, during the late winter with Joe sitting on the swing set watching as his father and Mr. Dainard argue is pristine and crisp.
Whatever it is that terrorizes the small Ohio town of Lillian could be akin to the monstrous behemoth of Cloverfield, albeit a distant kin. Similarities abound with pallor and tone, while the differences are striking as well. We catch glimpses and teases of it throughout the first half of the film, but Abrams makes great use of obstacles to obscure what the audience thinks it sees or wants to see. Taking a page from Spielberg's Jaws or Scott's Alien, it is better to imagine the horrors than to reveal it.
When all is said and done, Super 8 is less a movie about things that go bump in the night, sending dogs racing away in all directions and microwaves disappearing from appliance store shelves in the dead of night, and more about letting go of the things that we cannot control, and in the case of the USAF, should not control.
WORTH: Matinee or BluRay