Soon after witnessing a catastrophic train crash, a group of friends begin to notice strange phenomenon in their small home town. Eager to somehow incorporate the events into their own movie, the group dig deeper into the events surrounding the crash only to discover something a lot more sinister is at hand. J. J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg invite us to remember how movies used to be.
Let me set a scene for you. In a small, American suburb some time in the early 80’s, a group of friends are living out their childhood. No video games and no Internet mean that these kids have imagination. They go outside. They ride their BMX bikes. They covet their house brick sized Walkmans as the height of technology. Then, an alien visitor is thrown in the mix. At first they aren’t sure if the alien is friendly or hostile but what they do know is that the government and military are hot on its heels and will stop at nothing to capture it and cover up its existence. Against his better judgement, and advice of his peers, one of the group makes a connection with the creature. He realises that the visitor doesn’t mean anyone any harm, he’s simply trying to get home. This boy’s name is Elliott. You know this story. If you’re my age, you grew up on this story.
I experienced a bit of a mixture of anticipation and indifference during the build up to the release of Super 8. As with most of his projects, Abrams gave very little away other than the fact that he would be working closely with Spielberg and that it would be a monster/alien movie. With the success of Cloverfield but the saturation of the genre, you can understand why I couldn’t make my mind up. What I got, however was a very pleasant surprise.
I’ll say right off the bat that Super 8 is simply the best homage to the innocence of the 1980s childhood that modern cinema has ever produced. It doesn’t shout about the decade in which it is set. It’s effortless in such a way that you know that a massive amount of effort went into making it seem that way. It does its job and by extension, proves that Abrams and Spielberg have done theirs.
The plot was familiar but more than original enough to be entertaining. The young cast were superb, particularly Elle Fanning who exhibits all of her older sister’s talent, without the nails-on-chalkboard voice and the special effects were spectacular but not over the top. I can only imagine that Super 8 would look fantastic in IMAX. Scripting, which is an area that can make or break a movie set in a specific period in history, was superb and never once causes your suspension of disbelief to waver.
I did start to wonder, though. There is a chance that I loved this movie so much because it was a wildly successful nostalgia-fest. Without the wonderfully executed homage to the films of my youth, would I have still enjoyed Super 8 as much? You can’t help but think that a movie which draws so much of its charm from days gone by must inevitably lose some of its punch when viewed by an audience who weren’t around during that time. On the whole, though, I think Abrams and Spielberg handled this potentially sticky accessibility issue with skill. I think rather than making the movie, the homage to better times and better films simply makes a good movie great.
In closing, Super 8 is no E.T. But it proves, in its final not to the Spielberg classic, that even a movie only half as good can still win out over the septic tank of summer blockbusters that pollute our theatres these days.