J.J. Abrams writing and directing with Steven Spielberg producing were a huge draw, and the build up was typical Abrams, mystery and promise galore. The marketing and trailers were giving little away but piling on tension and style.
Some would say that Abrams has the potential to be the new Spielberg, I'm not one of them. He's certainly one of our best writer/directors of the moment, but he's much more commercially aware than Spielberg and that shows in his projects. Perhaps that's down to the audience more than anything, our rather the studios behind the projects going more for the lighter side of entertainment. To be fair as his stature and power has grown his projects have turned away from the expectations of the marketplace and delivered more. It was even apparent with his early work such as Alias, which I loved. Perhaps he does have the potential to reach the heights of Steven Spielberg, and with Super 8 he's certainly showing he can capture the spirit of his films.
Joe is helping his friend make his first film having learned a lot about monster make up, a film about a detective investigating a zombie outbreak originating from a local company.
His friend has realised the story needs a love interest in order to make it more believable and so he's asked Alice Dainard, played by Elle Fanning, to join the film, the girl that Joe has a huge crush on.
So they begin the big scene, filming at the train station as a train passes by. During filming there's a huge crash and the kids narrowly escape the train wreck leaving with more than they expected, film of the accident itself and of something that was onboard the train, something that is now responsible for some strange events around the town.
While Joe's father, Deputy Sheriff Jackson Lamb played by Kyle Chandler, investigates these strange events, Joe and the others keep making their film but at the same time Joe is curious as to what is behind the crash, the strange occurrences and the suddent appearance of the army.
I did say that J.J. Abrams did a good job of recreating a Steven Spielberg film, but as I've thought about it and written this review I have to say that he may have captured the feel, there is something missing.
Super 8 does feel like a mix of The Goonies and E.T. with Cloverfield (Filmstalker review) thrown in there but there's a dramatic level, a connection with the characters and their situations, that seems to be lacking. With Spielberg I felt lost and absorbed with the story and characters, and even the smallest event touched me and held a weight and consequence. With Super 8 I did feel I was watching a film and didn't feel the emotion or feel as close and involved as I did with E.T. for example. It's fair to say that's why the connection to The Goonies is much closer for that film is much lighter.
The connection to The Goonies isn't just the lighter material, the group of kids, each with a different and unique skill which becomes a key cog in the ending of the story, each of them coming together and delivering just when they are needed and only together they accomplish something much larger.
Super 8 does feel like a much lighter film than E.T. in tone, and I wish it had captured my emotions and attention as much as Spielberg's film had. However this isn't a Spielberg film, it's Abrams film with a feel for the Spielberg classics, and that's something we should all remember. This is a much more commercial and modern blockbuster.
Also with Abrams comes something I'm not so keen on, and that's the lens flare, something that feels out of place whenever it's used in this film. The clue is in the title, lens flare, we don't follow life looking through a lens, that's what the camera does, and so every time I saw it during the film I was reminded of the fact that we were watching a film, stepping me away from the story and the characters.
It did work just fine with Star Trek (Filmstalker review) because that's a film about the future, and that's the reason that Abrams said he used it as the future was so bright. Here though we're looking to the past and it didn't feel right at all, when the more fantastical parts of the story came in was where it seemed okay, but that was only a couple of scenes at the end.
So no lens flare please, it was way too much. My wife thought the film was actually damaged. Other than that aspect the filming was fantastic and couldn't be faulted. It complimented the story and drew me in, with the picture flowing from night to day and action to drama without so much as a second thought, well apart from the lens flare. Okay, back to the story.
The blend of the two main story threads is done well, mixing the burgeoning romance story with the other real world problems affecting the kids and the more fantastical storyline of the train crash and what ensues.
The fantastical and the romance story hold the main draw, but there are also the smaller dramatic stories of the boy's relationship with his father, the story behind his mother and the father of Joe, our main character. They are all brought together well and you might think it's too much for a film that also promises a mystery and monster but it isn't.
Abrams gives each it's fair share of time and allows them to play out well to deliver a satisfying conclusion, well all except for one. For me the dramatic story that could have come from the relationship between the two fathers just wasn't given enough screen time for a conclusion. While the boy and the other parent worked well in their final scenes, between the two parents it just felt a little rushed and perhaps a little too accepting between them.
The visuals connected with the thread of the father and son at the end of the film do remind me heavily of Spielberg, and the way that storyline is built and delivered captures the audience, with that moment being both highly emotional and symbolic of the characters in a very short time. I found it worked well, even if it was a little twee it never turns too cheesy.
The story of the kids working together and their film is a surprising high point, like The Goonies it's the allure of the characters and how they interact that steals the show, and there's a great bonus for those staying to watch the closing credits for the zombie film is shown and it adds to the lightness and the feel good feeling you carry out of the film.
This story isn't just entertaining, it captures the heart easily and takes you back in years and because of that connects easily with the audience. Despite some of the heavier and more dramatic threads to the story there are even plenty of places to laugh with the characters and enjoy them.
Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney are very good through the film, utterly convincing and Fanning is undoubtedly going to follow her sister into stardom for her performance is the best amongst the younger cast, and perhaps the entire cast.
There's another strong performance worth mentioning, and that's the one of the secret inside the train. Taking a good lesson from Spielberg yet again this secret is kept that way for much of the film, showing more and more with each glimpse but even then not revealing too much. This works really well and although Abrams goes for the full reveal for the final act, it doesn't spoil the secret or the story.
The final thing I want to mention is the soundtrack. It opens with ELO playing Don't Bring me Down and ends with The Knack playing My Sharona, throw in Wings, The Cars, Blondie and Chic, and there's an excellent period soundtrack that I'm dying to get my hands on.
I have mixed feelings about Super 8, and the more distance there is from that showing the more I think about the not so good aspects of it. Notice I didn't say bad or negative because the film isn't bad and there aren't any negatives, it's just not as good as it could have been.
For instance I look at something like E.T. and remember how meaningful and how dramatic the story of the boy dealing with his parents divorce became; it was quite a bit tougher than the threads of the boy and the girl dealing with their respective family problems. In comparison Super 8 felt a lot lighter in tone and intent, but that's not a bad thing at all for what it did do well was connect with the audience emotionally and move them from sadness to laughter, and all wrapped up in an action adventure film reminiscent of The Goonies.
Super 8 offers something for everyone, and does do a great job of capturing so much of Spielberg's magic and combining it with Abrams talent for directing and storytelling which comes through so well in Super 8.
It's a strong story that will have you wrapped up in it, not just with the kids' lives but also with the adventure elements of the film. There are a few flaws and issues you might pick up with the film and the story, but they won't spoil your enjoyment of the film which will appeal to you on a number of levels.