Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler
Director: J.J. Abrams
Running Time: 112 mins
Super 8 is an American film about a group of kids who, while making a zombie movie, get caught up in a series of unexplained events after witnessing a dramatic train crash one night.
Harking back to the early days of blockbusters in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Super 8 is a brilliant blend of Spielberg nostalgia and a thrilling modern scale, featuring great action as well as a gripping and emotionally resonant character-driven story.
The parallels in this movie are pretty clear from the start. At first, you’ve got the E.T.-style enjoyment of a group of kids out and about enjoying their childhood and making movies, with a little bit of Stand By Me coming-of-age drama thrown into the mix. Meanwhile, a small town is rocked by a mysterious alien presence, in a way that’s definitely reminiscent of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
Brought to life with modern special effects and a director in J.J. Abrams who is unashamedly passionate about blockbusters of the era, Super 8 is a wonderfully nostalgic through and through, but it’s more than just a rose-tinted look back to the biggest movies of yesteryear.
While its nostalgia for classic blockbusters is a lot of fun, its most powerful nostalgia is one for childhood, telling a story about growing up and having fun with your friends, as well as an imaginative sci-fi tale that’s a really great adventure, but isn’t too lightweight either.
And that’s one of the things that I loved about Super 8. It’s nostalgic for childhood and is perfectly appropriate for younger viewers, but it doesn’t seek to hold their hands with soft, fluffy sci-fi and adventure. There are some really scary moments here, as well as surprising violence for a PG-13 movie, but with a great story, that’s the kind of thing that makes for a really memorable family experience at the movies.
Think back to the likes of Close Encounters, E.T. and Stand By Me. All three of those films have some very dark ideas and moments, and although some are certainly lighter than others, none are a perfect bubble of idealistic childhood, and that’s what Super 8 pays homage to so brilliantly.
In that, the movie manages to bring in gripping character drama all the way through, much of which is far more challenging than you’d expect in your average coming-of-age movie. With great performances from its young cast – in particular Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning – Super 8 is at its best when we’re spending time with this group of friends, both in the quietest and most action-packed moments..
The only disappointment with Super 8 is that, in its last act, it sort of drops the dramatic, character-driven focus of its story in favour of a slightly less interesting sci-fi finale. The visual effects and action are all great, and you feel for the characters having spent so much time with them earlier on, but it’s a marked shift from what is beforehand a delightfully understated film that never goes overboard with its ideas.
Mysterious and emotional throughout, Super 8 tells a gripping story, and it only misses the mark when it goes for a slightly more superficial action climax. However, it’s still a brilliantly entertaining watch from start to finish, more than living up to the classic blockbusters to which it’s paying homage, so that’s why I’m giving Super 8 a 7.8 overall.