June 13, 2011

Movie Review: Super 8

Super 8 is a movie I had a lot of hopes for. I looked at the trailers and could keep the wave of nostalgia at bay. I looked at it and could not help but have flashes of The Goonies and E.T. Come to mind, perhaps with a bit of Cloverfield. Now, we know that director JJ Abrams is good at keeping his cards hidden and we also know of producer Steven Spielberg's ability to deliver family entertainment and coming of age tales, the big question was whether or not it would deliver on the big screen. Having seen the movie, I can answer that with a resounding yes!

As soon as Super 8 was over I knew I had seen something special. It is an exciting ride with adventure and heart. I walked out of the theater with a smile on my face and a desire to turn right around and watch it again. This is the kind of movie that can remind a person of why they love movies. It is a personal story told in mini-epic fashion that is easily accessible to all. Perhaps it is a bit more populist in nature and won't appeal to the art house crowd, but there is no denying the craft that was put into it's creation.

You know what, forget he populist notions, if you don't like this movie, there is something wrong. All right, that may be a bit extreme, but this movie is so good natured and sweet and fun that I fell under its spell.

Now, I have seen some of the criticisms leveled against the film, with the biggest claiming it to be primarily a Spielberg clone that relies too heavily on nostalgia to win the crowd over. Perhaps these arguments are valid, I just don't agree with that perspective. I sort of look at I like a Tarantino film, another director I am a big fan of, he is able to take his influences and put them on the screen in such a way that they are still recognizable yet tweaked into a form that still allows the familiar elements to feel new and fresh. Likewise, what is wrong with nostalgia? Especially when its use only serves the movie and is not shoehorned in as a way to garner unwarranted favoritism? I find that those callbacks to my youth are perfectly executed and strengthen the cumulative effect of the movie.

At the center of the movie is young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) whose mother died in a tragic accident. It is an event that weighs heavily on the youngster whose deputy father (Kyle Chandler) has largely been absent from his life. There is a noticeable distance between the two at he start, neither one truly understands the other.

The timeline jumps ahead four months, school is out for the summer and Joe is all set to help his friends make a zombie movie. You see, Joe is an aspiring make up effects artist. However, everything is turned upside down when they sneak out one night to shoot and witness a horrific train crash, encounter a survivor of the crash, and are sworn to secrecy about everything they have seen.

While the story and direction may feel familiar, Abrams knows what he is doing up there and does a fine job of keeping you guessing. Key plot points are held back until the moment hey are needed. The kids know they are in the middle of something big, and they each react their own way. It is Joe who takes the opportunity to step up and go through those coming of age stages that we expect.

I really don't want to give all that much of the plot away. It certainly is interesting as the kids try to figure out what is going on while joe's father is also struggling with the events. You see, after the crash, the Air Force show up en masse and they are not offering much of anything in the way of explanation. Meanwhile, there is the very real alien presence that is helping to stir up some trouble and act as a catalyst for these kids changes.

As interesting as the actual plot is, what makes it work are the performances. There is something about this group of kids that feels genuine, real, and unscripted. Sure, it is scripted and I am sure hey received much in the way of coaching, but they feel very real, like an actual group of friends were plucked together to take these roles. Among these kids is Elle Fanning (yes, Dakota's little sister) and she is marvelous, there is something that rings true about he performance and in turn Joe's reactions to her.

Super 8 is a movie that fires on all cylinders. It takes me back to my younger days watching movies, it demonstrates the love of filmmaking by those involved, and is just great all around. Just thinking about it makes me smile and want to head back to the theater. This is a movie that doesn't play like a potential franchise, it has a goal of providing a great story for everyone while reminding us what made the 80's great. It is not merely a throwback film, it is a successful attempt at making a family friendly adventure without a cynical bone in its body.

I do not know what else to say, you are either interested or you're not and there is no amount of gushing from me that will change our mind one way or the other. All I can say is go see it. It is simply one of the best experiences I have had in a theater in awhile.

Highly Recommended.

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