Sunday, June 19, 2011

Super 8

A few months ago, my dvd player died on me. Cut off from my collection, and craving a cinematic experience, I dug through my old VHS tapes and found something I had not seen in at least fifteen years, “E.T.” Now, I am a Spielberg fan, I’ve watched “Jurassic Park,” “Jaws,” and the first 3 “Indiana Jones” films so many times that, frankly, much of the joy has been lost. But for whatever reason I had not done that with “E.T.” so I popped it into the VCR and I was amazed. I was transported to my childhood. It was great nostalgia, yes, but it also worked as it’s own experience.

“Super 8” is the new film by J.J. Abrams (“M:I-3”, “Star Trek”) and it attempts to emulate those early films of Steven Spielberg, and it’s mostly successful. In pure Spielbergian fashion, it centers on a young boy named Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) living in small town Ohio and dealing with a death in the family. But that’s not all that’s going on, Joe and his buddies are also heavily involved in making a zombie film for a local film festival. However, the plot thickens during a night shoot, when a train derails in front of them. The train belonged to the army and soon, military goons swoop in to recover it’s mysterious cargo.

To say more about the plot would be unwise. But sufficed to say that the film has just as much in common with 50’s sci-fi as it does Spielberg. Like any good summer film, “Super 8” features top-notch pyrotechnics. The train derailment sequence was beautifully choreographed and there is a very nice scene at a gas station that I will leave you to discover. But the great thing is how Abrams spaces out the action, allowing us to spend time with the characters and get to know them. The first shot of the film beautify illustrates that Abrams priority is story and character.

The group of kids, played mostly by newcomers, are all excellent, almost too excellent as their amateur filmmaking adventures are often more fun and involving than the actual mystery surrounding the train. Unfortunately, the mystery is where the film falters a bit. The solution just wasn't as clever as it’s clues. The emotional resolution doesn’t quite work either. At the end of the day “Super 8” is not quite as good as the Spielberg films it’s emulating, but it’s close. Damn close.

It’s great to see a summer movie where the character development doesn’t feel like padding, that has ambitions beyond the mere technical. It’s a fun movie, and it’s worth your time.

Grade: B+