Friday, June 10, 2011

SUPER 8 Review

"Super 8" (2011)

Thank goodness for "Super 8." J.J. Abrams' ultra secret sci-fi thriler--one of the most highly anticipated movies of the summer--is this year's "Inception" not in terms of content or tone but simply in reminding and reaffirming what summer blockbusters are all about. This is a huge action flick, but you may not even recognize that at first; there is an absorbing human drama letting us never forget that among the enormous explosions and chaos, there are families, a group of friends and a small town to be concerned about.

Written and directed by Abrams, this is also a heartfelt throwback, a retro and nostalgic look back at what made old-fashioned summer blockbusters so appealing--those directed by the likes of Steven Spielberg. Produced by Spielberg, the film borrows heavily from the director's older movies such as "E.T.," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and even "Jaws." Abrams' borrowing isn't without reason, however, because his film is a love letter to the Spielbergian movies that inspired him. And, what more, it's a love letter to the classically American genre of the B-movie and to the pure joy of filmmaking and moviegoing.

The irresistible story takes place in 1979 and follows a group of middle school-aged boys making an 8mm zombie movie to be entered into a youth film festival. What makes this feel so authentic is that Abrams was 13 years old in 1979, so the details are all there. Just as Abrams is nodding to Spielberg, he's even more so reminiscing on his own childhood and the Super 8 monster movies he made as a boy. In watching a group of kids passionately make a zombie flick, we become aware that we're watching a movie created by a grown-up kid in the same spirit--one that is exquisitely well-made, thrilling and wonderful.

While filming a pivotal scene for their movie, the kids witness something terrifying and spectacular. A train unexpectedly derails right before their eyes in one of the most elaborate and magnificently colossal train crashes ever to grace the big screen. This accident creates a string of intrigue and mystery that gets a shady military presence involved. Strange occurrences threaten and overwhelm the small town, and it all escalates to a full-scale evacuation. The tropes of the sci-fi genre are there, but they're being played with in our favor.

Take for example when the demanding director of the young production played by Riley Griffiths--who is a great supporting player and acts like a pubescent Orson Welles--mentions how the hero of their movie needs a wife, so audiences will care if he dies. They recruit the elegant Alice (Elle Fanning) to play the role, and by the same token, we're given the extremely talented and divine Elle Fanning as the butterflies-in-your-stomach first love to Joe (15-year-old novice Joel Courtney). He is the sensitive yet strong lead of "Super 8" who is experiencing the grief of having lost his mother.

The young cast is the film's shining gem and brings with it a playful and gentle tone with perfect humor even when things get creepy and the atmosphere turns dark. The adult cast gives fine support, especially two prominent figures: the town's deputy played by Kyle Chandler who's also Joe's hard-loving father and Ron Eldard as Alice's conflicted and unstable father.

There is so much heart and so much fun contained in J.J. Abrams' "Super 8" with the type of innocent storytelling and eye-twinkling awe we rarely see anymore. And there's a beautiful message to boot telling us that--extraterrestrial or not--we all want a place to call home.

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