dir. JJ Abrams
Release Date: Jun 10, 11
Nostalgia is dangerous, especially when it comes to film. If every filmmaker went around trying to be Quentin Tarantino, we’d have nothing but movies about movies. Ultimately, the postmodern approach only goes so far; occasionally it works, but more often than not, it’s easier to get emerged in the world of a film that aims to make you forget that you’re watching a movie. However, sometimes a film is able to hit the perfect balance of self-awareness and reverence for the art of cinema, while still creating a story with characters and moments that feel amazingly real. And when this happens, the result can be tantamount to magic. The latest film to capture a little of that kind of magic: Super 8.
The well-hidden story of Super 8 takes place in the summer of 1979, and for young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), it proves largely to be a summer of wonder. Left in a dark place after the death of his mother, the wonder that helps Joe escape this darkness comes from the time he spends making movies with his friends, the burgeoning romance he begins with his crush Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning,) and, of course, from a mysterious train accident that thrusts his small town of Lillian, Ohio into a series of strange happenings. Following the train “accident,” the Air Force descends upon Lillian, and begins making a secretive investigation, all while mysterious occurrences start to happen around town. None of this sits too well with Joe’s father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), who begins to make an investigation of his own.
Deputy Lamb’s investigation of the investigation is interesting, and Kyle Chandler holds his own in this movie’s “leading man” role. However, most of the joy in Super 8 stems from the time Joe spends with his friends. Courtney, Fanning, and all the other kids in this movie deliver great performances. If I had to pick a favorite out of their motley crew, I guess I’d have to go with Riley Griffiths as Joe’s friend Charles Kaznyk. Charles is a young film director in training, obsessed with production values and getting his movie done in time for a local film festival. Watching Joe, Charles, Alice and the rest of this group of friends as they try to finish their movie amidst the chaos that Lillian has descended into is so much fun it’s cathartic.
Of course, as the movie goes on, the kids start to question more and more of what’s happening around them, and eventually are thrown into the whole big mess themselves. But whether they’re trying to evade Air Force bad guys or just hanging out, talking about movies, school and life as they know it, they’re the driving force behind Super 8. In short, these kids are alright.
Super 8 does have a few flaws, even if their existence is pretty much overshadowed by all the stuff the movie does right. The story here is simple, and is all the better for it, so a subplot about Alice’s father, and how his negligence at the local steel plant cost Joe’s mother her life, feels unnecessary. Joe and Alice’s relationship is good enough on it’s own, and the decision to make them star-crossed lovers, with fathers who hate each other, doesn’t really add much of anything to the movie. The film also doesn’t show you enough of (spoiler alert, although by now you should have guessed this was coming) the creature whose causing all the problems in the town. You never really get a good look at him; an equally effective and annoying decision. Effective in that it keeps the tension up, and does a good job of shrouding the whole film in suspense, but annoying in that we know there is a monster there, so after awhile the suspense wears off, and you just want to see it.
But rest assured, Super 8 is the delicious slice of summer movie magic you’ve been waiting for. The reason it works is that producer Steven Spielberg and writer/director J.J. Abrams grew up in love with movies. Because of this, Super 8 feels both influenced by films that came before (some made by Mr. Spielberg himself), but authentic and real in that it also comes from two men whose very lives have been influenced by film. The love that our young heroes have for movies, with their homemade costumes and super 8 camera, is the same love that Spielberg and Abrams have; to a certain extent, these are guys who are still just running around, playing director in their backyard. Sure, their backyard has gotten a lot bigger, but their passion has stayed the same. Super 8 works because it’s about the world of film, but it’s also about those in our world who love film.
Or, to put it another way, this is a movie for people who love movies.