Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard
Charles: It looks like a disaster movie, doesn't it?
J.J. Abrams, the man behind the polarizing television series, “Lost” and the stellar STAR TREK reboot from a couple years back, longs for simpler times in his latest adventure, SUPER 8. The film has been shrouded in secrecy and mystery since it was announced, which I imagine excited Abrams a great deal, and it is finally time to see what all the fuss is about. Is it another big budget thrill ride from start to finish? Or will it be a long, meandering mess of confusion that doesn’t necessarily go anywhere at all? With Abrams, you never know what you’re going to get until you get it and people are never really in agreement once they have it either. With SUPER 8 though, you’re going to get something altogether new for the director – a fun time for all.
It is 1979 and a handful of geeky kids are set for the summer of their lives in Lillian, Ohio, making a zombie movie with their super-8mm camera. Their naiveté draws the viewer into their world and suddenly Abrams’ longing for a time when kids were perfectly amused riding bikes and playing with model trains, is ours as well. The tricky thing about child-like innocence though is that you never know when it will be taken away. Joe Lamb (played by impressive first-timer, 15-year-old, Joel Courtney) already knows how it feels to have his world crash like a massive train wreck, having just lost his mother in a freak accident. So by the time he actually witnesses an actual derailment, he is better prepared than his filmmaker cohorts to deal with the wreckage. There is no way he could be ready to deal with what they find amongst the debris though. And believe me, there will be times when you won’t know how to deal with it either. It’s quite scary.
Most people expected SUPER 8 to be simple homage to the film’s executive producer, Steven Spielberg, king of the family adventure film. While the influence is undeniable, the execution contains a more modern understanding of emotional communication. Films like E.T. and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND are event pictures that commanded attention but the depth in SUPER 8 is at times completely flooring. For instance, Joe has a crush on a girl he shouldn’t, Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning). Their fathers (Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard) are messed up and can’t stand each other but these two can’t help but gravitate towards each other. In one scene, while watching footage of Joe’s deceased mother on a projector, Alice says through her tears, “I know I don’t know you at all, even though it feels like I do.” It is as if they’re discovering themselves and healing their hurt right before our eyes. It is truly moving.
SUPER 8 can be called a tribute and be proud to wear the moniker but the truth of it is that Abrams’ latest is a unique experience unto itself. It is often frightening and tense, surprisingly touching and contains some of the most massive special effects extravagance I’ve seen. Perhaps what it shares most in common with Spielberg’s earlier works is that it too demands to be seen and experienced in theatres, sitting amongst family and friends. It is an event that is utterly thrilling and yet somehow manages great insight and comfort as well – a rare feat as I’m sure we can all agree. In the end, watching these kids come of age made me wish my eyes were still just as wide as theirs. Thanks to SUPER 8, for a couple of hours, they actually were.