JJ Abrams revisits the lost world of Spielberg land

Deadly Movies Reviews | ‘Super 8’ (2011)

Super 8

A lot has been made about ‘Super 8‘ being a return to the very best sci-fi adventure of Steven Spielberg, here producing on behalf of writer, director JJ Abrams. Much like his producer role in Tobe Hooper’s ‘Poltergeist‘ (1982), Spielberg’s fingerprints are all over ‘Super 8‘, however, under the expert direction of Abrams this film takes it’s cue from the very best of Spielberg without giving overall control to Hollywood’s most powerful gray-beard. Comparisons are fitting, set in 1979, ‘Super 8’ takes place in a world and time inhabited by the likes of ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind‘ (1977) and ‘E.T‘ (1982), and like those films it strikes the balance of sci-fi fantasy and the lives of it’s characters perfectly. Something arguably lost on Spielberg’s adventure films of the last decade.

The characters in ‘Super 8‘ are a group of 13 year old kids, hellbent on making a zombie movie for a local 8mm film contest while all around them even more fantastical real events unfold. When a US Airforce freight train is derailed outside a small industrial US town the alien cargo aboard escapes into the countryside, leaving the young amateur filmmakers the only witnesses to the crash and top-secret fugitive. The military are, of course, determined to recapture the creature by any deceitful, undercover, and underhanded means necessary.., leaving the kids and the local law enforcement to put the pieces of the puzzle together as the unusual events, tension and mystery  in the small town reaches breaking point. Abrams cleverly ensures that the monster and the adults play supporting roles to the kids. This isn’t a movie about a marauding killer creature, but how a group of children get on with their lives surrounded by this very surreal problem as well as their own, all to real, life problems. And this is where ‘Super 8‘ steps up from being a very good adventure film to being a fantastic five-star movie.

Each child actor turns in a wonderful performance (especially the two leads, Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning) that keeps the movie grounded and identifiable in the same way that young actors from bygone adventure movies of the 70s and 80s achieved so memorably. The kids here are the Goonies, they are Billy and Kate from ‘Gremlins‘, they are Marty McFly from ‘Back to the Future‘. That’s not to say that they are parody’s of these characters, but rather they share the same endearing qualities that allow kids to be in real peril, embody roles that aren’t horribly patronising or cliched, and, most importantly, are enjoyable and identifiable for young and adult audiences alike. This is an accolade that can be scarcely said about likewise movies of the past 20 years.

Like the very best of the Spielberg of yesteryear, this is an amazingly fun, moving (in all the right places), and exciting sci-fi movie. Yet this is an Abrams movie. Fans will recognise his specific signature all over the film, yet it goes without saying that his hat is firmly tipped towards the most successful director of modern cinema. I must admit, I’m not sure Spielberg could make this movie today, I don’t think he could ground the sci-fi elements in the everyday like he so successfully did in the past. Props then to Abrams for delivering a film that must be the best of it’s kind since his mentor brought dinosaurs so vividly back to life in 1993.

PS: Hang around for the end credits if you’d like to see the zombie movie. You won’t be disappointed.

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