The few negative early reviews for Super 8 all say the same thing: it’s hollow nostalgia-porn, junk for children. Those critics have either forgotten what it was like to be a child – the naivete, innocence, sense of adventure and wonder – or hated their childhoods. Since when did it become a crime for a film to have a nostalgic tone?
As the film follows an early-teenage group of kids, Super 8 writer-director J.J. Abrams magically wisps you away to that long-forgotten land called Adolescence. Hearing the dialogue of relentless below-the-belt jabs, name-calling and cursing, seeing their world revolving around a nerdy obsession and watching it be trumped by the only thing powerful enough to distract their one-track minds – girls – is certain to remind any boy of those awkward prepubescent years.
If you can imagine The Goonies, E.T., Stand By Me, Signs, Cloverfield, LOST, The Fugitive, Empire of the Sun, The Host, Monster Squad, The X-Files, The Sandlot and Close Encounters of the Third Kind all rolled up into one perfect, concise, exciting and all-out fun movie, that is what you’re getting yourself into with Super 8.
The earliest teaser trailer for Super 8 began running last May before showings of Iron Man 2 – almost four months before principal photography had even begun. It showed a train barreling down the tracks with the following text: “In 1979, the U.S. Air Force closed a section of Area 51. Materials were being transported to a secure facility in Ohio.” A recklessly-driven pickup trucks screeches around a railroad crossing gate, careens down the tracks towards the oncoming train and crashes into it head-on. After the disastrous wreck, amidst the peaceful chaos, a banging is heard coming from within a rolled-over boxcar. The last thing we see are the bolts and lock fly off the steel boxcar door as something huge – presumably a creature – bangs its way out.
J.J. Abrams intentionally keeps you in the dark about his films to create a mystique and tension. I have always believed that “less is more,” so I will not tell you anything but how the central group of kids tie in with the original images from the teaser. Sorry, kids – no spoilers here.
Joe Lamb’s life has been anything but normal. Four months ago, his
mother was killed in a freak accident at the local steel mill. While Joe
(newcomer Joel Courtney) has quietly come to terms with his mother’s
passing, his father Jackson (Kyle Chandler, King Kong) hasn’t, negating Joe and solemnly engulfing
himself in his small-town police work. Although Jackson would have Joe
spend his summer at a baseball camp, Joe refuses so he can spend those
cherished school-free months making super 8 movies with his friends.
Trying to make their way into a local super 8 film festival, Joe and his friends are trying to make a worthy zombie film with high production value. After recruiting the cutest girl in town, Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning, Somewhere), they sneak out after midnight to film in front of their town’s old railroad station. Of course, they picked the wrong night and end up witnessing the train wreck firsthand in what I deem one of the best action sequences of all time. Not wanting to get busted by their parents or the authorities – Joe’s dad – the kids race home and keep their insane experience to themselves, but are only pulled in deeper when the secrets they saw that night can solve the mystery of why things are going awry in town.
Being a huge J.J. Abrams fan, I went into Super 8 with extremely inflated expectations. Even then, they were completely blown out of the water by what I saw. Super 8 is one of the most well rounded films of the year. Abrams applies his signature mystique in such a way that his beautiful and awesome story holds a constant tangible tension; said tension would be almost unbearable were it not for the fact that you are completely drawn into the film from the first scene. The nostalgia of a distant childhood is what makes Super 8 reel you in and keep you hooked. Small bursts of comedic dialogue lighten the tension. Genuine moments between Joe and Alice take you back to the feelings of your childish first love. And at the core of it all is this extremely well-handled sensibility towards life, death and loss, the fight to finding something worth living for. These perfectly crafted elements of Super 8 flow and combine perfectly, not only make you emotionally relive those same experiences from you own past. They pull you into the movie and make you and make you feel like a member of the gang going through this adventure, not just some schmo in a movie theater.
It’s going to be a very difficult task for another summer blockbuster to live up Super 8. J.J. Abrams has solidified and proven that he truly is worthy of his complimentary nickname – “The Next Steven Spielberg.”
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures