Those still plagued by their childhood fears of ET rejoice! Though J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 pays deep respect to Steven Spielberg’s beloved (by others) classic, we are now old enough to appreciate these films without cowering behind our blankets. And thank goodness because Super 8 is not one to be missed.
In a time where movie trailers are not shy about revealing key plot points, that for Super 8 refuses to ruin anything for the audience. However, if you still want to have a faint idea of the setup then I will say this: a small group of kids making a movie of their own are thrown into a creature feature greater than what they could have ever imagined after witnessing a train accident on the edge of town. As it derails in quite the distracting fashion, something far worse than stowaway hobos stealthily emerges from its train car to seek shelter in the nearby town.
This train crash reverberates through the sternum of the viewers as its palpable force and grandiose nature drop jaws in the first of many amazing action sequences, leading the way for numerous practical and computer animated effects in the hours to follow. These exciting moments do not disappoint in the slightest, ranging through the scale of larger set pieces to the smaller, barely visible encounters that startle as much as a strongest horror films.
As important as the creature is to the story, it acts more as a catalyst than a key ingredient for a large percentage of the film as it remains just out of view, slowly making its presence known as it becomes more of a factor later. Instead the focus remains on the relationships of the main body of characters in the small American town as they try to make sense of what is happening, and how these unexplained events strain their imperfect lives.
With Elle Fanning being the most recognizable name in the cast for many (possibly for the recognition of her older sister) Super 8 is full of lesser-known actors who amaze in their performances as any seasoned actor. Joel Courtney has the most to do as Joe Lamb and it is hard not to be impressed with his range of emotion and skill considering his thin imdb page, giving an incredible performance that is as strong as any I have seen. Fanning also lives up to the family name as the only girl in a group of five boys, including Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths, and Gabriel Basso. At times their truthfulness to children can be overwhelming, but this honesty to the mixture of fear and excitement is also what is so entertaining about this young cast as they respond to the creature and military presence. Often comical in nature, they still produce many engrossing and heartfelt moments, including another favorite scene just before the crash in which they are filming a scene for their movie at the train station, as well as the numerous interactions between Joe and his busy father, played by Kyle Chandler.
Playing double duty, Abrams’ skill as a director greatly compliments the story / script he has written. The connections and pasts of the characters slowly reveal themselves similarly to the creatures ever-growing presence, constantly building the foundation that fuels the audiences connection to the characters. With that said not all is spelled out and it is up to the viewer to make of it what they will, especially in concern to the creature and whether they choose to sympathize with it, as well as choose to further develop an understanding of its motives, actions, etc.
With the look, story elements and feel of Super 8 it is hard not to compare it to E.T. Heck, many a time as the kids rode their bikes around the hilly 1970s town I felt as if I was watching that film once more, with only the lack of a covered alien in the bike’s basket reminding me of this mistake. However, it is far more than just a simple homage, building on this strong foundation to create something worthy of becoming a classic all on its own.
Final Grade: A