At the heart of most Steven Spielberg films is the relationships between the characters. Whether it’s a son and his father or a daughter and her mother or siblings or whatever, Spielberg has spent a majority of his films making the audience care for the characters and the human aspects of their relationships. Then he throws in a shark or an alien or a pirate ship or a CIA agent…wait…scratch that last one. Anyway, obviously Steven Spielberg has been a huge influence to a generation of filmmakers and it’s with a flourish that JJ Abrams brings his homage to Spielberg to the big screen.
“Super 8” is essentially about a boy and his relationship with his father. Joe has recently lost his mother in a plant accident. His father is a deputy with the police department and hasn’t exactly been the ideal parent. Their relationship is tenuous at best and is even more strained with the death of his mother. While his father works, Joe hangs out with a group of friends who have an interest in filmmaking. So to pass time during the summer, they are attempting to make a zombie movie using a Super 8 millimeter camera. One night, as they are shooting at a trainstop, they witness a disaster when a truck rams a train, causing a wreck of epic proportions and unleashing an unknown entity that will go on to terrorize the small town where the kids live. Needless to say, the army is called in, dogs and people start to disappear and the power in the town is continually fading in & out. What is going on? Is there a monster on the loose? Will the town survive? Will the friends get their film made? And most importantly, will Joe and his father finally realize how much they mean to each other?
Obviously a lot of the storylines can be traced back to the 1980’s films of Spielberg and it’s because this film borrows from those films so lovingly that it makes this film a joy to watch. I grew up watching “E.T.,” “The Goonies,” “Poltergeist,” “Gremlins,” and the non-Spielberg film “Stand By Me” so when I see certain aspects of each of those films tied into this one, it’s obvious to me that Abrams has a love for them also and he treats each one with respect and uses his film to pay homage to them. That’s not to say that he doesn’t add his own touch to this movie. As a fan of Abrams, I can definitely say this is his film. The pacing is better than that of those 80’s films and there are certain aspects of it that definitely are an upgrade from that time period (mostly the creature itself which would NEVER have been in a Spielberg movie in the 80’s!). But the movie stays true to it’s roots with music from 1979, hair styles and cars from that era and a lot of fun references to those days including movie posters and television broadcasts.
Another excellent aspect of this movie were the child stars. As with so many Spielberg movies, the film is only as good as it’s main characters and Abrams gets the maximum effort from the unknowns that are the film crew of this movie. Joel Courtney as Joe is a perfect fit for this film. He is an actor on the rise and carries the weight of this movie on his shoulders without becoming too weepy or wimpy. He rises to the occasion when his friends are in jeopardy and he works hard for his father’s affection but doesn’t cower from him when he demands his way. He’s the glue even when his friends find their moments to steal a few scenes from time to time. His best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) is directing the zombie flick and can be demanding at times. The “star” actress, Dakota Fanning’s sister Elle, brings some acting chops to their project and is as promising a talent as her sister. The other friends are excellent as well and all play an important part of making this movie as enjoyable as it is.
There are several more reasons I love “Super 8,” including the location (it’s set in a small Ohio town), the creature (Abrams borrows aspects of his “Cloverfield” creature to create a true terror that had my 9-year old son shaking a little bit in an attack scene) and the adult actors are all perfect in their roles as well (with “Friday Night Lights” coach Kyle Chandler playing Joe’s dad). If I had one complaint it would be the amount of cursing that takes place throughout the movie. Even though I know kids say the dirty words, it could have been reeled in a little bit. There is quite a lot of it here and my son asked me about certain words several times. I would have prefered that he asked me more about the alien or something, not “Why did he say THAT word?”
So there are many reasons why this movie will be on my “Top 10 of 2011” list but the best thing I can say about “Super 8” is that it is simply pure entertainment. It’s 2 hours of non-stop, “Hollywood at its best” fun and once again JJ Abrams has made a solid film that I will be watching over and over again. It’s my hope that my son enjoyed this movie as much as I did and he will be smitten by the movie bug the way I am. Nothing would make me happier than if he remembers that he and I saw this movie when he was a kid and he shows this movie to HIS son someday, along with “The Goonies,” “E.T.,” and “Stand By Me.” Those movies are the reason I LOVE the movies as much as I do and I’d like to thank Abrams and producer Spielberg for taking me back to when I was a kid, eating my popcorn in the dark and passing away some of my summertime in the cool theater air conditioning. “Super 8” is summer entertainment at its best. Go see it before it leaves the big screen and remember the good old days like I did…
Overall Rating: A+