Super 8 • director JJ Abrams
I heard someone describe Super 8 as Goonies meets ET meets Jurassic Park and I can’t think of a more accurate description of this film. Though this film was helmed by JJ Abrams, it feels from start to finish as though Spielberg had stepped behind the camera himself. Rather than this being an insult to Abrams I think it’s a compliment, it speaks to the warmth, characterization and craftsmanship of the film – Spielberg isn’t an easy man to emulate, but having him on set probably helps.
Super 8 follows Joe Lamb, a young teenage boy whose mother was recently killed in a tragic accident. His father is not dealing well with his new single father role, and as Joe begins to work on a super 8 zombie film with his friends he tries to regain a sense of normalcy – normalcy that is interrupted when an air force train derails in his home town and it’s mysterious cargo is lost. Witness to the crash, Joe and his friends try to hide their knowledge until Joe is forced into action as the air force takes over the town and strange things start happening.
When a film has children as it’s focal point not only is it hard to get genuinely good child actors, but more often than not the children just don’t seem to behave like real children; however, Super 8 succeeds on both fronts. All of these characters behave like teenagers of any era – they’re discovering the opposite sex, dealing with tragedy with humor and grief, and generally struggling to figure out how to operate in their new roles in the world. These are kids that you grew up with or were when you were their age and it helps draw you into the film and the crisis at hand. The standout performances come from Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney as the leading pair – each dealing with their own tragedies: Joe is dealing with life without his mother, and Alice deals with the guilt from her father being involved in the death of Joe’s mother.
I’ve stated many times that I hate exposition. I think that exposition dumps are the traits of a bad writer as there can be much more elegant ways of handling the information an audience needs to understand a story. The opening of Super 8 is a stunning example of how to handle exposition but letting your audience arrive with you. The film opens in a most unexpected way, being a factory town we open on the safety sign in the main factory denoting the 700+ days they’ve been without accident, slowly see someone come to the sign and remove the numbers, rolling it back to 1. From there we learn that the accident in question was the accident that killed Joe’s mother. It’s beautiful, tragic and simple, but it creates the feeling for the world that follows.
I cannot recommend this movie enough to anyone that misses the days Spielberg films in the 80’s. It’s a fantastic throwback and is also fresh – something that seems to be JJ Abrams chief skill as a director.