Review by: Tim Lucia
*** (out of four)
Written & Directed by J.J. Abrams
J.J. Abrams’ meteoric rise to fame is thanks largely in part to the wild success of “Lost”, and also his previous two directorial features, “Mission: Impossible III” and “Star Trek”. With “Super 8”, Abrams pays homage to the early films of Steven Spielberg, but adds a bit of his own style and flair.
The main narrative revolves around our protagonist Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his “Goonies”-like group of friends. A group of film geeks led by the bossy director Charles (Issaquah native Riley Griffiths), the crew is making a short zombie film, shot with a Super 8 camera. On board as lead actress is Alice (Elle Fanning), who provides a love interest for Joe. A subplot between Alice’s ne’er-do-well father and Joe’s father, a put-upon Sheriff’s Deputy, arises to heighten the tension between them.
Kyle Chandler portrays Deputy Lamb with the same stern sympathy he exuded as Coach Taylor on the TV show “Friday Night Lights”, his best known role before this film. The roles are so similar, it could be argued Chandler simply traded in his hat and windbreaker for a police uniform; but it’s a role he plays well. Chandler and Fanning provide the strongest performances of the cast. Abrams’ work always involves creating good emotional connections with the characters, and he succeeds again here, creating a nostalgic world in which the viewer can empathize with these three-dimensional characters.
Late one night, the crew sneaks out of their respective homes to shoot a scene at the local train station. A truck drives onto the tracks and cranes into the train, sending the cars flying high and crashing all around the kids in an epic scene of action and destruction. The kids run for their lives but leave the Super 8 camera rolling in the process. A mysterious force is revealed, which sets in motion the main conflict of the film, as the town is quickly turned upside down.
Steven Spielberg serves as producer on the film, and it brings to mind “E.T.”, also a sci-fi adventure film centered around a group of youths, specifically a precocious young boy. Something happens that he can’t quite explain, but he is intrigued by the unknown. Dashes of “Close Encounters” and “The Goonies” can be seen, mixed with a few of Abrams’ own trademark plot devices. With “Super 8”, Abrams weaves a story nostalgic for childhood and the mysteries that come with it. Michael Giacchino’s simple yet beautiful score (similar to his score from “Up”) even seems to trigger memories.
There is a nice, sentimental tone to the film — without being overbearingly so. Characters are lost, friendships are tested, young love blooms, and parent/child relationships are repaired. Abrams manages to do all this in a somewhat fresh way. Though it might be scary for some younger viewers, “Super 8” is a fun summer blockbuster almost all audiences can enjoy.