Review: Super 8

Super 8, J.J. Abrams latest big screen adventure, was released on Friday throughout the UK. I saw the movie on the Sunday following release, but why is this review only being published now, days later? I will usually be able to write-up a review of something the same night I have watched it, but with Super 8, it’s been one of my most difficult movie reviews to write.

Allow me to explain…

I admit to being a bit of a follower of Abram’s work – I was a fan of both series Alias and Lost through their original airings on TV and am currently anticipating the forthcoming new season of Fringe, all shows which he had a hand in creating, and I have enjoyed his two cinematic projects he directed prior to Super 8. I was also surprised to see his name stand out in the writers credits recently when re-watching 1998’s asteroid blockbuster Armageddon.

I remember seeing him in an online video where he was giving a lecture to a group of film makers in which he explained his sort of philosophy of The Mystery Box. A simple unopened white box, with a large black question mark printed on it, and how this box – a magic trick set from when he was a kid – was the inspiration for the mystery that he puts into his shows/movies – it explained a lot about his work (especially as it was around the time Lost began to air).

With his latest cinematic release, Abrams has continued to apply that philosophy, while also melding it with a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the generation that grew up in the 1970’s & 80’s.

Super 8 is set in the 70’s, following a group of kids from a small town, including Joe (Joel Courtney) and Alice (Elle Fanning), as they are filming a home-made movie (on super 8 film) at a railway station late one night during their summer break. When a passing train is derailed by a truck crashing into it, the kids are warned not to talk about it by the surviving driver of the truck, and flee from the site as the military arrive and begin to search the wreckage.

Soon after, mysterious things begin to happen all over town, people including the Sheriff and various items go missing, pets run away to the neighbouring towns, and Joe’s father Jackson (Kyle Chandler), who is the deputy of the town, has to try to figure out what is going on, while having to contend with interference from the military who avoid his questions as to what was on the train.

Abrams has openly admitted to being a massive fan of Steven Spielberg (who is also a Producer of the movie), and Super 8 is an homage to some of his earlier movies, particularly evoking a feeling akin to movies like E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When I first saw the trailer for Super 8, I definitely got that feeling of those early Spielberg movies, and the trailer accurately put this across (for a change).

I enjoyed the movie, and have already recommended it to a friend who I am certain will enjoy it. The movie is well-directed, looks incredible yet has a 70’s feel to it, and above all has an emotional core to the story which most viewers will find easy to connect with. The most outstanding detail of the movie is the performances by the young main cast, a group of kids all around the age of fourteen who Abrams has managed to get to not only give great performances, but realistic and honest performances that portray what a group of kids hanging around are really like. I was reminded by someone afterwards how it closely resembled the close friendships of the characters of 1986’s Stand By Me.

But I do have my reservations…

While I enjoyed the movie, I ultimately got the same sense of something missing from it that I just cannot put my finger on. It’s worth noting that I also got this from the trailer and have done so with each of Abrams’ cinematic ventures, starting with Mission Impossible 3, which was an enjoyable movie and addition to the series. As a huge Trek fan, I absolutely loved what he managed to do for 2009’s Star Trek reboot – making a movie that for the first time in 25 years managed to rival the Star Wars cinematic feel, yet still left me with the same nagging feeling. Super 8 also resulted in this feeling as I left the theatre, but this time it was on a much bigger scale than before. As stated, I enjoyed the movie, but even after two days of thinking it over, I cannot figure what it is that bugs me about it.

That said, I have explained this to others who have seen the movie, and they have not been able to say they had the same experience, one friend commenting that he had a smile on his face from start to finish, even as he left the theatre. But if there is anyone else out there who has had the same experience as me with Abrams’ other movies, you will know what I mean, and know what to expect if/when you see this movie.

Oh, and stay around once the credits role, to see the completed Zombie movie that the kids were filming throughout the movie.

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