Super 8 is a personal project for J.J Abrams, an homage to his idol Steven Spielberg and the great Sci-fi movies of the 50’s, late 70’s and early 80’s. Set in 1979, the story revolves around a group of kids in a small Ohio town who have a close encounter of the third kind while trying to complete their zombie-romance film. It begins when a group led by movie-obsessed Charles (Riley Griffiths) and best friend Joe (Joel Courtney) sneak out one night to film a crucial scene in their local train station. This is followed by a whirlwind of weird events, including missing dogs, missing people and stolen microwaves and strangest of all the arrival of the military. It is not long before the boys realise that the military are being suspiciously candid about what the freight train was transporting and more importantly what escaped the wreckage.
Super 8 is refreshingly unlike the sci-fi blockbusters of today. Firstly it is an original story, not a sequel, spin off or even a “re-imagining”. It is a “blockbuster” that is full of heart, intimacy and great storytelling. Most importantly, unlike many monster movies, the characters come first. Abrams remembers the key rule that a majority of contemporaries have forgotten, action and peril have meaning only when an audience cares for the characters. Abrams makes sure the relationships between the kids represent the heart and soul of the movie. There is the rivalry for Alice’s (Elle Fanning) attention, the emergence of Joe as an unlikely hero and the similarities and contrasts of Alice, Charles and Joe’s home lives. The kids are faultless and reminiscent of the little stars of “Stand by Me” and “E.T”. Perhaps what makes their performances and their dialogue so realistic is that Abrams gives the movie a biographical element – these kids are based on his childhood, his friends and his experiences of shooting films on his parent’s Super 8 camera.
With this movie, Abrams lives up to his billing as the “next Spielberg”. He has delivered the most authentic Spielberg film that Spielberg never directed. The film’s small Ohio town, the town’s rolling topography, even the kid’s bedroom’s all bring E.T to mind. Abrams is a master of storytelling and suspense. The movie is at its best when the monster is out of camera shot, the suspense is keeping us on the edge of our seats and at the same time we can watch the interaction between characters. Abrams provides some really memorable images and sequences. The image of the plot-pivotal landmark framed in the distance through a small hole in the wall is genius. But for this reviewer the two really interesting scenes were the classic shadow scene involving the gas attendant, the sheriff and the out-of focus attack and also the fantastic sequence where Alice blows her comrade’s away with her line reading abilities. The only slight let-down is the finale, where Abrams creates his own E.T like ending which felt slightly kitch after the artistry that had preceded it.
Super 8 is the must see film of the summer. It is well told with lots of humour, heart, emotion and a real sense of wonder and suspense. It doesn’t need movie stars. What it has, is a great story, interesting characters and a director in his prime.