Film Review: Super 8

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 14th June 2011.

This year’s crop of summer blockbusters features a dearth of truly original material. We have sequels a go-go with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Hangover Part II, Kung Fu Panda 2, Cars 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. There are prequels in X-Men: First Class as well as remakes such as Conan the Barbarian. From the pages of comic books will come Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Arguably the only original tent pole movie release of the season, the much anticipated Super 8 hit screens worldwide last week. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, who had major success with TV series Lost and Alias, before moving to the big screen with Star Trek (2009) and Mission Impossible 3 (2006), the movie follows the adventures of a group of kids in small town seventies America as they attempt to shoot a home grown zombie film amidst the arrival of a strange creature, and the military, via a devastating train crash.

The film is openly a homage to the work of Steven Spielberg, who came on board as producer for Super 8, with inspiration drawn from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and The Goonies (1985).

Most remarkable about this film, which I’m glad is not available in 3D, are the performances from the young actors. As the lead character Joe Lamb, struggling with the death of his mother and his emerging hormones, fifteen year old Joel Courtney is marvellous with a sincere, everyman performance that is not surprisingly reminiscent of Henry Thomas as Elliott in E.T.

The real discovery of the film is Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota, as Alice, Joe’s love interest. An early scene where her character demonstrates a natural ability to act in the shooting of the movie within the movie is a revelation. This is a career to watch.

The creature itself is deliberately hidden throughout the early stages of the film. The breathtaking train crash which frees “Cooper”, as he was named by the director during the making of the picture, is breathtaking. It may be an annoyance initially to some as the monster is obviously seen by characters but obscured to the audience but the suspense worked for me. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that once Cooper is revealed, the stakes drop a little, quite similarly to another creature feature, the J.J. Abrams produced Cloverfield (2008).

In particular, Generation X’ers will feel a strong sense of nostalgia for eighties cinema, where kids on the big screen went on adventures uninhibited by mobile phone, computers and parents. A sense of wonder about the world, combined with a couple of scary bits, will make you want to go straight home after the credits and relive some similar gems such as Gremlins (1984) and Stand By Me (1986).

Venturing into slightly saccharine territory at the end, the heart of Super 8 is the relationships between the kids. The performances of the young cast are worth the price of admission alone. Make sure you stay during the credits for the full zombie mini-movie.

Although not a perfect film, Super 8 comes highly recommended and is my favourite film of the year so far.

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