A Touch Of Spielberg

‘Super 8’ Review

Nostalgia is dangerous territory for a filmmaker, mostly because it can make you lazy. It’s easy to ramp up sentimentality for days gone by; just crank some tunes from your high school prom, throw in a few pop-culture references (“What you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”) and some bad hair styles and you’re set.

Writer/director J.J. Abrams dove head-first into the nostalgic waters of 1979 in his new movie “Super 8,” and while he does tug freely at our fond memories of the past, he also creates something entirely his own while paying homage to cinematic blockbusters of the early 1980s.

Mix four parts of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” with two parts “E.T.” and three parts “The Goonies” with just a splash of “Jaws” and you have “Super 8.”

You’ll notice that all of these movies I’ve mentioned bear the mark of Steven Spielberg, which is not by accident. Undoubtedly Abrams, along with all we movie nerds of Gen-X, were gob-smacked by Spielberg movies as they burned white and hot across our childhoods. Spielberg is credited as a producer on “Super 8” but he is clearly the sole inspiration for the movie as well.

What Spielberg did better than anybody was put his characters (typically normal, everyday people) in the forefront of fantastic and spectacular events, laying the focus of his movies on his actors instead of the groundbreaking special effects tromping around in the background.

In “Super 8” Abrams introduces us to a group of prepubescent friends who spend all of their free time riding their bikes around their quaint Ohio town making movies with an old Super 8 camera. You remember those days, when cameras had “film” that needed to be “developed.”

Anyway, our hero is Joe (played by newcomer Joel Courtney) who loses his mother at the beginning of the movie to a factory accident. His dad Jackson (Kyle Chandler of “Friday Night Lights”) is a town deputy and both father and son are having their difficulties dealing with the tragedy.

Joe, his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) and their pals Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Cary (scene stealer Ryan Lee) all somehow convince class cutie Alice (Dakota’s little sister Elle Fanning) to help them with a zombie movie they are making.

The group heads out to an old train station to shoot a scene when a passing train smashes into a truck at a railroad crossing and proceeds to derail in stunning fashion.

In no time the Air Force is on the scene, while back in town strange events and unexplained disappearances begin to take place.
Abrams deserves a lot of credit for keeping this movie’s heart in the right place even as the plot gets increasingly implausible.
And while I’m heaping out spoonfuls of credit, cinematographer Larry Fong is due his fair share for absolutely nailing Speilberg’s visual style. The film has just the slightest hint of grain and wide-angle shots abound, complete with more lens flairs than you can shake a stick at. I can’t help but feel that “Super 8” would play great at a drive-in theater.

“Super 8” is a crowd pleaser to be sure, and while its unlikely to be mentioned by future generations in the same breath as Speilberg’s awe-inspiring early works, Abrams does manage to get closer to the look and feel of those movies than any of the long list of imitators that came afterward. That’s a pretty super achievement all on its own.

“Super 8” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence and some drug use.

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