Super 8 (Film Review)
4 out of 4 stars
In a summer filled with unexpected hits, ‘Super 8’ once again raises the bar for cinema this year. Boasting an incredible script, direction, and performances, the film easily ranks as writer and director J. J. Abrams’ most satisfying to date and fondly recalls classic 80’s blockbusters like ‘E.T.’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. In fact, ‘Super 8’ can almost be described as a loving tribute by Abrams to the film’s producer Steven Spielberg, re-interpreting the other director’s flourishes in a fresh and unique manner. Without a doubt, ‘Super 8’ is the most entertaining and expertly made picture of 2011 to date.
The story’s main hero is Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a 13 year old boy living in the small town of Lilian, Ohio. Shy and timid, Joel’s main passion is filming home movies on his father’s Super 8 camera with the help of his best friends Charles (Riley Griffiths), Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso), and Cary (Ryan Lee). When the film opens, Joe and his friends are in the middle of shooting their latest project: a zombie invasion epic which features their beautiful female neighbour Alice (Elle Fanning) as the heroine. Almost instantly, Joe is captivated by Alice, quickly falling in love for the first time in his life.
However, the romance is soon to be disrupted as Joe finds his entire life turned upside down by a freak accident. While filming beside a railway track, a massive military train derails right next to the gang, almost killing them and resulting in a massive explosion. The day after the crash, a large U.S. military squad arrives in town to examine the wreckage, quarantining the town and its citizens.
The worst has yet to come however. Within a few days of the crash, strange disappearances begin to occur all over the village, with all the animals in the area running away from their owners and the power mysteriously cutting out. Ultimately, the townspeople come to a realisation: an unknown creature of some kind has escaped from the wreckage and is hiding somewhere within the town. Faced with the destruction of everything they hold dear, Joe and his friends must begin a dangerous and secretive hunt for the entity that will ultimately change all of them forever.
More so than any other movie of the year, ‘Super 8’ possesses a truly engaging story that appeals to audiences of all genders and ages. From a thriller perspective, the script constantly keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats, and is packed with twists and turns from beginning to end. In fact, the monster is never even revealed until the movie’s final twenty minutes, only enhancing the film’s sense of mystery and excitement. However, the film also works as an emotional character drama as well, fully developing its child cast and giving each a clearly defined personality and their own dramas. Even the overweight Preston, filling the role of the slow-witted and cumbersome best-friend character, has his own internal conflicts which are treated with depth and realism by Abrams’ script. Additionally, the film’s dialogue sparkles with humour and wit, with both adults and children likely to smirk in delight at the banter exchanged by the protagonists in between action scenes. All in all, ‘Super 8’ might be the most universally appealing picture to hit movie screens in years.
‘Super 8’ is also expertly filmed, with Abrams milking every shot for the maximum amount of tension. One particular technique that he uses is never to show the actual creature until the very last scene of the film, making sure that the audience imagines their own horrors with which to scare themselves with. Additionally, the camerawork of the film is excellent, maintaining a sense of movement and urgency whist never descending into an epileptic seizure as with other genre movies. When coupled with the sweeping, emotional score and the brooding, foreboding set design; the result is a truly immersive world which fully brings out the film’s action and suspense.
As a result, Super 8 has more genuine scares and jump-in-your seat moments than most proper horror movies, and consistently maintains a tense, moody atmosphere right until the unexpected conclusion. Even more impressively, the film manages to accomplish these scares without using any violence or gore, helping to keep the movie’s tone light and adventurous and suitable for younger audiences. Indeed, ‘Super 8’ might be the perfect summer blockbuster in this respect: it’s a thrilling, occasionally startling adventure that will move adults and scare kids enough to excite them without giving them nightmares.
Of course, none of the movie’s success would be possible if not for the strength of its cast. In the lead role as Joe Lamb, Joel Courtney is effortlessly human and relatable, providing one of the best child performances in recent memory. Despite his extraordinary circumstances, Joe’s underlying concerns are painstakingly human - his fractured relationship with his policeman father, the death of his mother in a car crash, his passionate feelings for Alice – and in many ways are just as much as the focus of the story as the invading alien. Similarly, Kyle Chandler also brings charisma and sympathy to the film as Joe’s father, and his subplot involving his own investigation of the military team led by Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich) represents one of the movie’s most involving elements. Finally, Elle Fanning also deserves credit for her moving performance as Alice, the love interest of Joe with dark secrets of her own.
Most importantly, ‘Super 8’ is a moving, emotional tale which contains numerous moving themes and messages for its audience. The first and most important of these is the value of friendship; throughout the film the children are the only ones able to solve the mystery because of their unquestioned trust and loyalty in each other, while the adults immediately are driven to bickering and fighting with each other. In this respect, ‘Super 8’ almost resembles a John Hughes movie in that it’s a commentary on the loss of innocence and openness with age and a tribute to the childhood years when that innocence still exists. Secondly, ‘Super 8’ is also a tribute to the wonders of cinema itself, as can be seen through the title of the film and the numerous references to filmmaking in the story itself. Indeed, the film’s conclusion subtly suggests that the art of cinema itself is a method of turning back the clock and rediscovering the innocence and wonder within ourselves.
Even for those who aren’t sci-fi fans, ‘Super 8’ is simply majestic, sweeping entertainment that rises above its pulpy origins to the level of genuine art. Like Spielberg before him, Abrams has taken what is essentially a child’s bedtime story and given it life in glorious fashion, masterfully bringing all of the audience’s own deepest memories, fears, passions, and hopes along onto the screen with it. Without a doubt, ‘Super 8’ is truly an example of evocative blockbuster filmmaking at its absolute best.
‘Super 8′ is currently playing in Hong Kong theatres.