Abrams delivers a “Super” adventure, worthy of his mentor
Director J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi saga “Super 8” feels like the perfect summer blockbuster from a bygone era when the filmmaker’s hero (and in this case, Producer) Steven Spielberg was cranking out unforgettable films. In fact, with a nod to one of Rob Reiner’s films you could amusingly sub-title this terrific Spielberg mash up “Stand by Me while we have Close Encounters within the Jaws of an E.T. and try to prevent a War of the Worlds.”
But Abrams’ (“Star Trek”) film is by no means a rehash, for it does what most iconic movies do: Present an original story while tapping into our most basic instincts of fear, belonging, family, and friendship. While “Super 8” features one of the best young ensembles in a long, long, time, the potty-mouthed script deserves a parental warning and casts the only regretful shadow on an otherwise sterling popcorn adventure.
Shrouded in secrecy—as it should be for maximum enjoyment—the trailer for “Super 8” only offers a peek into the story, and a review shouldn’t reveal much more either, so here goes:
In the summer of 1979 a group of young high school kids from a small Ohio town are making a homemade film and witness a spectacular train crash. They soon learn that the train’s contents are part of a military cover-up that may have alien origins. Among the kids is directing auteur Charles (the splendid Riley Griffiths, a former resident of Cedar City), make-up specialist Joe (wide-eyed perfectly cast Joel Courtney), pyromaniac cameraman Cary (Ryan Lee-think a teenaged Tom Petty with braces), prone to vomiting lighting guy Preston (Zach Mills) and the fledgling production’s main actor Martin (Gabriel Bosso).
The boys are all wowed (and so you will be) when they see teenaged beauty Alice (a stellar Elle Fanning) rehearse a scene in the zombie/love story just as the doomed train is about to arrive within camera shot. For decades prior to the video recorder era, hobbyists used Super 8 millimeter handheld cameras, and for film geeks Abrams and Spielberg it was the technology that made their life matter.
Abrams skillfully blends the exuberance and charisma of his talented youngsters while mounting the tension of the mayhem created by the mysterious creature. The script makes room for tender scenes involving Joe’s recently widowed father, who is also the town’s Deputy Sheriff (Kyle Chandler), and Alice’s troubled pop Louis (Ron Eldard).
As with many science fiction films, there are those who will squabble with discrepancies or inconsistencies, but “Super 8” rewards an unjaded approach to the genre. The film’s biggest flaw is its unnecessary and uncharacteristic-for-the-period gratuitous language, which may give pause to parents sensitive to such material.
Abrams has learned well from the master and “Super 8” feels fresh and yet familiar in all the right ways.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, language (including over 40 scatological terms) and some drug use.
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