**** (out of 5)
June 10, 2011
Joel Courtney as JOE LAMB
Elle Fanning as ALICE DAINARD
Kyle Chandler as JACKSON LAMB
Ron Eldard as LOUIS DAINARD
Noah Emmerich as COLONEL NELEC
Riley Griffiths as CHARLES KAZNYK
Ryan Lee as CAREY
Zach Mills as PRESTON
Gabriel Basso as MARTIN
AJ Michalka as JEN KAZNYK
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
There’s a lot to be said about nostalgia. It’s a very powerful tool, and if used properly in a film, it can have fantastic effects. As a child of the 70s and 80s, I saw most of the early films of Steven Spielberg, both directed and produced, when they were in the theaters. I also spent my summer of 1979 in basements with shag carpeting watching TV shows on a 19-inch tube TV. So all the nostalgic elements of “Super 8” hit me exactly where they needed to for me to thoroughly enjoy the film.
“Super 8” is a strong mix of both Spielberg and J.J. Abrams, which is refreshing to see considering both of their names are displayed prominently on the poster.
The film takes place near Dayton, Ohio in the summer of 1979. Young teenager Joe (Joel Courtney) lost his mother in a factory accident four months earlier. He and his father, the deputy Sheriff in their small town, are struggling to get over this tragedy, and Joe has lost himself in his group of friends. They’re making their own film on Super 8, and when shooting at a train depot one night, they capture a massive derailment on film. When the military shows up to start cleaning up the mess, the kids get suspicious and do their own detective work to find out what actually happened.
You see… all the nostalgia elements are there. You have a small town. You have a group of awkward young teenagers. You have said teenagers riding their bikes a lot. You have some bizarre shenanigans happening in an idyllic setting. You have a single parent, struggling with relating to his kid. And you have the military in the mix with real guns, unhindered by CGI retro-fixes. It’s like “The Goonies” or “E.T.” all over again.
The difference is that “Super 8” is a much bigger movie. Modern special effects and filmmaking techniques give an explosive, massive feel to it. And that makes it pretty damn intense. I just compared it to “E.T.” and “The Goonies,” but it’s got a scope that’s larger than a treasure hunt or trick or treating with an alien, and it’s got much better effects than a rubber octopus attacking the kid from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” It’s “E.T.” on crystal meth… but in a good way.
I couldn’t begin to tell you how a viewer who did not grow up on a steady diet of Amblin Entertainment in his or her youth will see this movie, but it’s going to grab the “Star Wars” generation and hold on tight.
Beyond the nostalgic elements, “Super 8” still works as a film. At its core, it’s nothing more than a big budget B movie from the 50s, but it’s executed extremely well. J.J. Abrams differentiates himself from his previous work best by trying a different story. Instead of a group of hot, twentysomethings off to start a new life (as we saw in “Felicity,” “Alias,” “Cloverfield,” “Star Trek” and even “Mission: Impossible III” to a certain degree), he’s juggling a cast of kids. This is why the movie feels more like a Spielberg film than an Abrams film, the copious amount of lens flares aside.
In fact, it is this group of kids that hold the film together. I’m not just talking about Joel Courtney and his thirteensomething would-be romance with Elle Fanning. The rest of the child cast is fantastic, managing to each have their own personalities without being too much of a cliche (although they really are stock kid characters). They have great chemistry with each other and are able to deliver some of the film’s funniest moments amid the most harrowing ones with spot-on comic relief.
There are some slow points in the film, mostly dealing with the emotional fall-out from the death of Joe’s mother. But these moments are necessary for bathroom breaks and trips to the snack bar. For the most part, “Super 8” should keep your interest.
I’m reticent to say too much about the film itself because it’s one of those movies that is best consumed on an empty stomach. The less you know about it, the better. Not because “Super 8” is full of brilliant surprises and plot twists. In fact, the movie is pretty predictable from beginning to end. But it’s meant to be experienced. It’s meant for the viewer to watch it and be sucked back into what it was like to be 13 years old, riding your bike off your driveway and into a bigger world, not quite knowing what’s awaiting you.