JJ Abrams, Super 8 takes the classic ‘boy meets girl’ scenario and IMAX’es it with today’s technology to create a movie that is a love letter to the Spielbergian StoryTelling Sensibilities that created all those summer blockbusters back in the 1980s.
Take a dash of ET, but angry(how 21st Century), some Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a dash of the Goonies – including some of the bad things, season it with a pinch of the Jurassic Park movies and you have Super 8.
The film captures the small town 1980s vibe quite well with generous doses of music from the time period throughout the movie. Like the movies listed above this is a story about families that have been broken in some way. The main fractured relationship is between the town’s deputy, Jackson Lamb, played by Kyle Chandler, the ultimate TV father right now after his 5 year run as Coach Eric Taylor on TVs Friday Night Lights, and his son, Joe, played by newcomer Joel Courtney.
Joe Lamb. Jackson Lamb. Joe Jackson? Coincidence? Or another 80s reference? Hmmm….
The two Lambs have never really connected. The bridge that connects the gap between them is taken away by tragedy. Both struggle throughout the movie to find a way to forge their own connections and build a new bridge between them.
This is a movie that rests on the shoulders of the young actors and they are all solid with Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning carrying the emotional weight of the story and doing a wonderful job with it. Fanning has a couple of scenes that are simply brilliant.
There is so much Spielberg in this story done with a high tech coat of paint. Some story elements are bit wonky; the Dr. Woodward character – another 80’s reference? – makes for a convenient plot advancement device and his fate is left unresolved. There are scenes that feature the kids trying to talk over each other in that Goonie -‘I can yell louder than you’ style that I always find irritating. One section of the movie is padding pure and simple with the sole purpose to split up the kids. It could have been done much quicker and with less unnecessary pyrotechnics.
Outside of those minor stumbles this film really works because at its heart it is about people connecting, or reconnecting, families regrouping, people granting forgiveness, and the ability of the human spirit to move on from bad things and start anew. The closing scenes ape ET so much that you half expect the closing shot to end with a rainbow streak across the sky.
Super 8 features some great set pieces as the backdrop against which the kids are making a zombie movie with a Super 8 camera. There is a spectacular train crash that equals anything Spielberg has done. The SFX are seamless and in most cases are an evolution on what Spielberg was able to do back at that time. But are these new tools that give today’s film-makers unlimited freedom always able to achieve the best results? I would argue that the ET puppet works better because it allows the audience to connect with the story to a greater depth because ET is so much more recognizable.
Bad things happen. We heal. We overcome. We persevere. We recreate what we lose in new and similar ways.
This is not a monster movie. It is a people movie. Spielberg’s movies always were. JJ Abrams gets that and does the same here with his movie.
Super 8 is a thrilling, fun ride grounded with genuine emotions.