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July 7, 2011

Review: Super 8

Posted by on Jul 7, 2011

I was looking forward to Super 8 ever since the original teaser trailer debuted and I heard the first details about it. Written and directed by JJ Abrams, the film promised to be a throwback to the Steven Spielberg movies of the 80s, most notably The GooniesClose Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T., and even promised to throw in a little bit of Jurassic Park for good measure.
Now having seen it, I have been trying to figure out how to properly review this movie for the better part of three days now, because nothing I write seems good enough for describing exactly how much I enjoyed this movie.  I want whatever review I eventually produce to be witty, profound, or giddy enough to convince you, the reader, to share in my joy at this film.  So instead of doing all of those things, I’m just going to tell you how much I loved it.

The movies I mentioned above are some of my favorite movies ever.  They are not the ones that I watch all the time, and they are not the ones that immediately come to mind when someone asks me to list my top ten movies.  But few other films make me as nostalgic or summon up the same sense of boyhood wonder as those on that list.  The adventure in the underground pirate cave encountered in the Goonies’ attempt to save their city from an evil corporation, the haunting and exciting tune of the aliens in Close Encounters, and attempts to save a misunderstood friend from those who would hurt him are all great and memorable cinematic experiences. Remember those scenes and you can see why I was looking forward to something that promised to capture the same magic in the year 2011, especially since it was being produced by the man who made the originals.

Super 8 follows the story of a group of kids in the fictional town of Lillian, Ohio in 1979.  The action mostly centers on 13-year-old Joe Lamb, played by Joel Courtney.  Joe is joined by his best friend Charles, his crush Alice, and a few other friends.  Joe’s father is the sheriff’s deputy – played by Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights fame.  The group of kids are aspiring filmmakers, and while filming at an abandoned train station one night, they witness the catastrophic derailment of an Air Force train. Over the days following the accident, military presence increases in and around the town, and strange things start occurring, indicating that some sort of monster is loose.  From there the story starts to take off…  I’ll leave the rest for you to discover for yourselves, but let me talk a little bit about what I thought.

The kids in Super 8 are awesome.

Let me begin by saying that I was blown away by the performances in this film.  The cast of children deliver performances that are nothing short of amazing with dialogue that is full of emotion and character.  An ensemble of kids acting like kids as well as these do is rare these days. In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, it made me recall movies like The Sandlot, another favorite from my childhood. Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard, previously seen in Blackhawk Down and Deep Impact, also have strong performances.

Movies that feature any sort of other-worldly, mysterious being must take care in the reveal of that character.  Either it’s a known entity from the start, like the Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park, or it spends a fair amount of time cloaked in mystery, like the aliens in Close Encounters or the the shark in Jaws.  It is no surprise that JJ Abrams chose the latter method for this story, as he has had time to hone his mystery monster craft in projects like Lost and Cloverfield.  I think for the most part this was done very well, using shadows, half glimpses, and the periphery of the frame to set up a lot of anticipation about the whatever-it-is that is causing all of these disturbances.

The Amblin Entertainment brand is near and dear to the hearts of many, and it almost universally means quality. This is no less true here.  The excitement I felt when I saw the Amblin logo before the movie started carried through all the way to the end, when I felt myself tearing up.  Some of it had to do with the story on screen.  Most of it had to do with how well the story on screen captured the imagination and wonder I had as a kid watching Spielberg’s great movies of old.  You owe it to yourself to see this movie.

Also, be sure to stay for the credits, because they are awesome.