Amidst the uber-sequels containing superheroes, wizards and robots that are dominating the box office this summer, there’s been very little in the way of original movie making. One film that therefore stands out for going against the grain is Super 8, the lovechild of blockbuster supremo Steven Spielberg and new kid on the block J.J. Abrams.
The Star Trek director may be helming this picture but it’s quite evident from both the trailers and the plot synopsis itself that producer Spielberg’s fingerprints are all over Super 8. From major factors such as the small close knit all-American town locale and the late 70’s/early 80’s setting, to the smaller details like the father/son issues and an unwelcome military presence, we are clearly smack bang in the middle of Spielbergian Americana. Hell, the kids even ride around on chopper bikes.
Super 8 taps into the same crowd pleasing tone that in his prime Spielberg could harvest like no other. It’s a story of childhood adventure and friendship told from the perspective of kids that Spielberg honed as both a director and producer in hits like E.T. and The Goonies. It sounds a little trite to say, but you really don’t get many films like this any more. Most ‘family’ movies these days are either mega-budget franchise movies like Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean, or they are animated comedies courtesy of Dreamworks and Pixar. Now while these films are of course not without their appeal, they still don’t seem to posses the same pure and engaging tales of adventure that we once new. Late night bike rides and the laying of booby traps has been replaced by CGI special effects and amped up violence.
Despite its extraterrestrial plot device, Super 8 posits its focus squarely on a very human story and thus makes the kids and their families its prime focal point. There’s no unnecessary lingering over big FX shots and no gratuitous gore or violence, instead Abrams creates a very real sense of small-town life and allows his young leads to carry the movie.
The film tells the story of Joe (Joel Courtney), a young only child living in the town of Lillian who has recently lost his mum in a freak work accident and whose distant father struggles to connect with him. Joe and his buddies spend their nights sneaking out of their houses to make a zombie movie for a local competition. They manage to recruit a slightly older girl from their school, Alice (Elle Fanning), to play the female lead and Joe soon takes a shine to her. Late one evening during the shooting of a scene at the town’s railway line, the gang witnesses an explosive train crash and narrowly escape without injury. Their precious Super 8 camera stayed recording however and captures some astonishing footage. This being the era pre-digital camera however, they must wait a full three days to get the film back.
Shortly after the incident, shifty military types turn up and begin to take control of the crash site and the townsfolk begin to wonder what exactly the train had been carrying. Meanwhile, back in Lillian, strange goings on are afoot with the Sheriff going missing and all the dogs leaving town. Joe and his friends are determined to finish their film regardless of the ongoing drama but they soon get caught up in events far more than any of them could have imagined.
There are moments in Super 8 that are perhaps a little cliché, maybe even cheesy , and some shots don’t so much homage the earlier work of its producer as they do downright rip it off, but ultimately it really doesn’t matter. From the opening train crash you are swept up in the story to such an extent that the predictable plot points really don’t hinder your enjoyment at all.
This is a film that you can really imagine, like the Back to the Futures and Stand By Me of our generation, sitting down on a rainy bank holiday and watching over and over again for many years to come. It won’t just appeal to those of us in our twenties with a nostalgic fondness for the films of our youth however, I’m sure Super 8 will also prove every bit as popular with kids who are just getting into movies today. Arguably the best family blockbuster since Jurassic Park……and I do not say that lightly.