Cinema Review: Super 8

Please Mr Spielberg... we'll do better this time

DIR/WRI: J.J. Abrams • PRO: J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Steven Spielberg • DOP: Larry Fong • ED: Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey • DES: Martin Whist • CAST: Elle Fanning, Amanda Michalka, Kyle Chandler

Back in the late 1970s, there was a script in pre-production called ‘Night Skies’. It involved a mysterious monster attacking people in Smalltown, USA. The story originated in the mind of one Steven Spielberg, who eventually realised he didn’t like the sci-fi/horror elements, and stripped them out, and what he was left with was E.T. And now we have Super 8, the story of a mysterious monster attacking people in late 1970s Smalltown, USA, produced by one Steven Spielberg, and directed by JJ Abrams, a man who knows a thing or two about mysterious monsters (Lost, Cloverfield).

Joe (Joel Courtney) has just lost his mother in an accident and can’t connect with his Deputy Sherriff father (Kyle Chandler), so he loses himself in helping his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) on his zombie movie. Charles has just bagged Alice (Elle Fanning) for the lead actress, and she also happens to be the daughter of the guy who may or may not be responsible for the death of Joe’s mother. Also, Joe has a big ol’ crush on her. Things get even more complicated for this group of tweens when, while filming a scene at an abandoned train station, an army train gets spectacularly derailed and its mysterious cargo is freed. Pretty soon all the dogs in town have run away, people’s microwaves and car engines are missing, rolling blackouts are a regular occurrence, and members of town are suddenly going AWOL.

Abrams has become a master of mystery and tension, and even from the early teaser trailers, right up until its reveal, this movie was going always going to live or die by the monster. And while nothing could live up to what our minds have imagined, it doesn’t disappoint. But the film intelligently keeps in the background for most of its running time, only bringing it front and centre for the kinetic finale. For the most part, Joe’s coming-of-age story is front-and-centre, and it helps that he and all his pre-teen co-stars are fantastic young actors.

The recreation of 1970s Americana is spot on, but will most likely fly right over the heads of anyone under 20 who won’t know what a Walkman is. In fact, ‘recreation’ is either this films biggest strength or most fatal flaw. If you’re going to follow in the footsteps of anyone, you could do no better than Spielberg. But Abrams treats Super 8 almost like his own personal Best Of Spielberg compilation, with scenes reminiscent (or straight up stolen, depending on how you feel about it) from E.T., Close Encounters… Jurassic Park and War Of The Worlds. In certain respects, this is no bad thing. But perhaps just a tad more of his own originality that he brought to likes of Lost would’ve pushed Super 8 from the very good into the great.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Super 8 is released on 5th August 2011

Super 8 – Official Website

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