2011, action, adventure, alien, childrens film, cloverfield, E.T., Elle Fanning, Gabriel Basso, homage, J.J. Abrams, Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, melodrama, military, Riley Griffiths, Ron Eldard, Ryan Lee, science fiction, somewhere, star trek, steven spielberg, stylish, Super 8, The Goonies, Zach Mills, zombie
Written by: J.J. Abrams
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills, Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard
Super 8 is a real blast. There are flaws, giant flaws, but they don’t ruin the film because they aren’t important. Watching the movie feels a lot like watching E.T. (1982) or The Goonies (1985), because of the way it portrays its young heroes. Super 8 is a rich aesthetic experience that never pretends to be more than the popcorn-muncher it is.
In the late 1970s, 13-year-old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) has lost his mother and is left in the care of his father, a local cop who is so dedicated to his job that he has difficulty finding time to be a dad. A few weeks later, Joe is helping his buddies Charles (Riley Griffiths), Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Carey (Ryan Lee) make a low budget zombie movie that Charles is going to enter into a contest. When they all sneak out late one night to do some filming, Joe gets nervous when he finds out that Charles has invited Alice (Elle Fanning) to come along and play the character of “the wife.” While the kids are filming at a train station, a white pickup truck drives straight into an oncoming train, throwing the train off its tracks and sparking a surprisingly enormous explosion. The kids dive for cover and then quickly escape the wreckage before they get caught. The rest of the plot falls apart, but the important bits are that there’s an alien in town, there’s a conspiracy of sorts involved, and the kids are essential in freeing the alien and proving that the military mistook its fear for hostility.
That the plot dissolves is not important, the film carries on without it. Director J.J. Abrams is is one of the many disciples of Stephen Spielberg, in fact he is perhaps the filmmaker creating movies closest to Spielberg’s style. In his most beloved films, Spielberg often forcuses more on heart than mind. His films tend to move through large, emotional strokes rather than dally in the minutae of strict logic and clear detail. This isn’t an insult towards Spielberg, each of his movies is an adventure, soaring with great heart and incredible pace. Abrams seeks to pay close homage to Spielberg here, and while the plot seems to evaporate, there’s never a moment when we don’t feel exactly what is happening.
The young cast here is wonderful. They have the strong sort of bond that gangs of kids had in the iconic childrens’ films of then 1980s, they’re all likable, smart and sweet. These kids rely on each other, they swear, they bicker. They also seem to occupy a different space than the adults, moving within the same world but separate. Much of the film keeps the action and the alien in the background, the military chugs away as the great adult machine, while we are watching the kids, a few miles away, actually saving the day. Some of the performances are particularly impressive, including that of Riley Griffiths. Griffiths plays Charles, the aspiring director, with the right amount of drive and bossiness, Charles is never mean to his friends and his passion for movies is endearing. Here we also see great work from Elle Fanning, who I loved in Somewhere (2010) and who plays Alice with a lot of sadness.
J.J. Abrams is a director that I really want to succeed; I regard Lost as one of the finest pieces of television science fiction ever, and I enjoyed Cloverfield (2008) and Star Trek (2009) quite a bit, I walk into his films hoping for the best. He has never quite followed through in his films, they always seem to be missing something vital, but they all still have a lot to offer and I think Super 8 is his best yet.