J.J. Abrams delivers a powerfully engaging outing
If Stand By Me met a much more modern—if not fierce—E.T. it would resemble something like Super 8. This wildly exciting new film is cleverly written and masterfully directed by J.J. Abrams and it’s one you’re apt to remember for quite some time.
Abrams, you may recall, was responsible for rebooting the Star Trek film franchise a few years back—although whatever happened with that idea is still a mystery—as well as delivering a fascinating turn in the heartpounding Cloverfield. And let’s not forget all the fun he fueled into TV offerings like Alias, Fringe, Lost. But with Super 8, which has Steven Spielberg’s producer stamp on it, Abrams delivers a real surprise: a genuine summer movie event that hearkens back to the days when there actually were, well, summer movies you gave a damn about.
You might remember them—when something like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws or even Back to the Future not only titilated you but grabbed you on the insides— where it counts.
Abrams’ secret formula? He relies less on flashy special effects—although those served up here work just fine and don’t detract—and more on (you’re not going to believe this)—story. Yes. As in good storytelling. Better still, there are memorable characters that have depth and are able to capture your heart and imagination. Imagine that— a film where there is somebody and some thing you can’t help but invest your emotions in. We haven’t seen or experienced something this refreshing or envigorating—make that real—in a summer flick in decades.
The story. It’s a sci-fi movie at heart. The drama unfolds in a small Ohio town. The year: 1979. Like Spielberg’s E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the film brilliantly captures the mood and vibe of the times—down to the finest detail. (Ah, the late ’70s!) Young Joe Lamb (newcomer Joel Courtney in a standout role) mourns the death of his mother. Meanwhile his deputy dad (Kyle Chandler) has his own emotional battles. Their relationship is strained, and boy, does Abrams do a fine job of making us root for these two from the getgo.
For levity, Joe turns to his friends, particularly Charles (Riley Griffiths) a wannabe filmmaker who convinces his pals to help him finish shooting a short throwback thriller revolving around a zombie invasion. Elle Fanning joins in on the fun as a distant neighbor. Joe immediately takes a liking to her.
These are kind of the cool, kooky things kids would do during the summer months. But, as you may have already seen from the previews, something goes horribly awry with their filmmaking attempts when a train dangeroulsy derails right in front of them. The crash itself is superbly orchestrasted by somebody the kids know, and that revelation leads to the uncovering of more secrets—in time—the biggest of which involves a misplaced creature trying to find its way back home.
And then … the fun really begins as Joe, his dad and the rest of the gang suddenly find themselves involved in an alien cover-up. Look for how well Abrams develops his characters here. You grow to care for these folks and you can’t say that about a lot of characters you find in most summer films.
Yes, Abrams’ baby has it all: depth, fun, suspense, mystery and intrigue. This 8 gets a 10.
★★★1/2 (out of four) Watch film trailer >>>
With Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning. Produced by Steven Spielberg. Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams. Rated PG-13.