CliqueClack Flicks

Super 8 – Scary, exciting and fun … everything a summer movie should be

Super 8 - Theater Review
Release Date: 06/10/2011 - MPAA Rating: PG-13
Clacker Rating: 5 Clacks

Remember a time before everyone had a video camera on their phone? 'Super 8' revisits 1979 and follows a group of kids making their own zombie movie ... on film ... and stumble upon something much more frightening.

Joe and his friends witness strange occurences in "Super 8"

In the summer of 1979, a group of friends in a small Ohio town witness a catastrophic train crash while making a super 8 movie and soon suspect that it was not an accident. Shortly after, unusual disappearances and inexplicable events begin to take place in town, and the local Deputy tries to uncover the truth – something more terrifying than any of them could have imagined.

If ever there was a movie made just for me, Super 8 is it.  But Super 8 is also a movie for people who just love the magic of movies. It’s not aspiring to be thought-provoking … it’s not trying to be Oscar bait (although it should certainly be up for several on the creative and technical side) … all this movie wants to do is entertain you for two hours. Seriously, how can you go wrong with a movie that’s a little Cloverfield with a heavy dose of The Goonies and a bit of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind thrown into the mix? Is the movie original? Hardly, but it’s got a great story to tell and a couple of true movie geeks behind the camera — Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams.

I want to keep this review spoiler free because I think it’s best not to know too much going in. You’ve seen the train wreck in all of the commercials (but the actual wreck in the movie is seen from a completely different angle, so you really haven’t seen THE train wreck), and you know something is on the train that gets out. The rest of the story has been shrouded in mystery and even the title is likely to draw blank stares from anyone born later than, say, 1985 (I still have my Super 8 camera from a filmmaking class I took in 1980-something). The story unfolds in a small Ohio town where a group of friends (think the kids from Stand By Me crossed with The Goonies) are making their own zombie movie to enter into a competition.  While filming one night — without their parents’ knowledge — they witness a pickup truck drive headlong into an oncoming freight train. The driver turns out to be a science teacher at the middle school and he warns the kids to leave and not speak of what they saw or they and their families will be killed (seems the Air Force has something to do with the train, its cargo and the teacher).

The rest of the movie unfolds beautifully as the kids (and the town deputy) try to figure out what’s going on, with the focus remaining firmly on the characters and not just on the mystery. Abrams and Spielberg, and the extremely talented crew, have crafted a perfect vision of 1979. Everything from clothes and hair to home décor and cars is spot on (I loved the guy showing off his brand new Walkman to the sheriff). And as much as this is Abrams’ movie, you can’t help but see the hand of Spielberg in just about every frame, from the hectic family dinner table (think Roy Neary’s family in Close Encounters) to the patented view of the town from high atop a hill (pretty much seen in every Spielberg movie). There are also the scary military men (from E.T.) and the suburban neighborhood that Spielberg is so fond of. Basically, the only thing missing is a score by John Williams (Abrams’ cohort Michael Giacchino did the score this time out). And Abrams manages to sneak in at least one nod to Lost … look for it in the very last shot of the movie.

While there are adults in the film — namely Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard — the kids are the true stars, and again, you can see the hand of Spielberg in casting such terrific child actors who basically carry the entire film. Ryan Lee steals every scene he’s in as Cary, the kid who loves to blow things up, and Elle Fanning (looking eerily like a very young Susan Dey) as Alice brings heart to the group of boys. Riley Griffiths, as Charles the aspiring director (and the character I most identified with), is excellent with the range of emotions he has to go through. The real star of the group is Joel Courtney as Joe (his first acting role!), the sensitive kid who recently lost his mother in a tragic factory accident (Alice’s dad may have been indirectly involved) and has never had a real connection with his dad, the town deputy (Chandler). He loves his friends because they give him a sense of belonging, even if his dad thinks they are a bad influence (and he especially does not want Joe anywhere near Alice), and it really is his eyes that we see the movie through. Within his group, he’s really just a follower but when things around town unravel and his dad orders him to stay away from Alice, Joel finally takes a stand and asks why.  He never gets an answer but that moment when father and son stand face-to-face without saying a word, both trying to hold back tears, had me on the edge of sobbing. From that moment, Joe is the man in charge of his destiny. Courtney gives a great performance and here’s hoping he grows up without ending up in the sterotypical child star world of booze and drugs, and continues to shine on the big screen.

Super 8 is what summer movies should be all about. It’s fun, it’s scary, it’s dramatic, it’s exciting, it’s got a terrific cast and a good story, and it really makes those of us a certain age nostalgic for that time in our childhood. Like I said, I grew up in this era so the movie just triggers so many memories for me, and I hope those born after 1979 can still relate not only to that period in history, but that style of moviemaking that a young Steven Spielberg developed right around that same time. And if you’re wondering about the movie the kids are making, make sure to hang around during the credits to see the entire thing!

Super 8 is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language (one instance of the F-word) and some drug use (one peripheral character smokes some pot).

Photo Credit: François Duhamel / Paramount Pictures

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