If there’s one movie you shouldn’t miss this year, it’s Super 8. There’s more heart and soul in it’s two hour running time than most mainstream movies could ever hope to conjure. It’s the kind of film that reminds you of why you go to the movies.
Reviewing a film like Super 8 isn’t easy, there’s simply too much material to cover and there is the delicate problem of giving too much away. Director JJ Abrams has gone to great lengths to keep the plot of his movie a secret, so much so that the film’s resulting low profile may hurt it’s box office take. He’s the master of what he calls the “Mystery Box”, he doesn’t want to tell you what’s in it, but he sure as hell wants you to enjoy opening it.
The film is set in a small Ohio town in 1979, complete with bad fashion, hairstyles, and fantastic cars. It centres on Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), son of Deputy Sherriff Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), and the tragic events of that winter and how it changed his life. The film opens with one of the most chilling shots that will stay with you for a long time after the film, it’s the kind of story telling you wish you could feel everytime you went to the cinema.
Four months later and Joe is helping his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) finish a super 8 movie for an upcoming film competition, much to the displeasure of his disconnected father Jackson. Charles has managed to convince Alice (Elle Fanning), an older girl whom Joe likes to play a part in his movie. All chuffed and excited they sneak out at night with their firiends Carey (Ryan Lee), Preston (Zach MIllso), and Martin (Gabriel Basso) to film a scene.
While filming they witness a shocking crash, their high school science teacher driving his pickup truck onto the train tracks and smashing directly into an oncoming train. The heavily injured teacher, gun in hand, tells them to go and tell no one or they and their parents will die. It’s a bit dramatic, but the swarming men in military uniforms convince the children to make a run for it and vow never to tell anyone that they were there.
What follows is like a cross between The Goonies and E.T., and it doesn’t fail to deliver. It’s on the one hand a coming age story and on the other it’s about dealing with grief. It’s funny, scary, cheesey, and delightful all at the same time. The young and unknown cast are fantastic, they look comfortable and completely natural, with special mention to Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning (sister of Dakota Fanning). Those two are mesmerizing sharing much of the more touching moments of the film, especially Fanning who has a very commanding presence for her age.
It’s not without it’s problems true, Abrams must suffer from ADHD because he seems to love to blow things up even when it doesn’t really make sense to. He’s also a bit clumsy with some of the dialogue, but it’s excusable because the rest of the film exudes a charisma I wish other Directors could master. I also think he’s yet to master the elusive art of timing, particularly during the film’s climax. He lacks a sense of pace when the plot demands it, and he under plays some action while overplaying others.
There has also been some debate over the ending, but I think it’s perfect, I think it’s easy to forget what this film is really about, which might be the fault of the film itself. But you only need to listen to Abrams tell you that “Jaws isn’t about a shark” or “E.T. isn’t about an Alien” (here) to see that he wants to tell a story that’s very human and with a lot of heart.
Super 8 is an Abrams “Mystery Box” complete with a satisfying unveiling of the goodies inside. It’s the best movie so far of 2011, and it’s a real treat. You do not want to miss it!