Director: J.J Abrams
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Ron Eldard
Bruce Greenwood, David Gallagher, Riley Griffiths, Gabriel Basso
Ryan Lee, Noah Emmerich
From its opening shot, Super 8 reaffirms something we've always sorta known: J.J. Abrams is a natural born storyteller. In an exceptional display of economy he lets us know the location of the story (the fictional town of Lillian, Ohio), the time frame (1979) and using a tiny bit of backstory, lets us foresee the future of its leading character, 14-year-old, Joe Lamb (Courtney) who after losing his mom is left under the care of his stoic father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Chandler) who, to say the least, has no idea how to deal with the child.
Fast forward a few months and Joe is now helping his best friend Charles (Griffiths) produce an epic zombie film using a simple Super 8 camera. Their world is shaken when school beauty Alice Dainard (Fanning) agrees to be in the movie. Joe, Charles, Alice and their other friends, Preston (Zach Mills), Cary (the scene stealing, precociously Truffaut-esque Lee) and leading man Martin (Basso) leave their homes in the middle of the night to shoot the film's centerpiece at an old train station.
While the boys gasp in the presence of Alice - the way in which Abrams captures prepubescent awkwardness is delightful - they hear the loud noise of an upcoming train. The Herzogian Charles decides that this event will only help make their movie better and orders for the cameras to roll as the train suffers a derailment and consequent explosion. The children leave unharmed but realize the train had an enigmatic cargo that now has been set free upon their little town.
To say more about the film's plot would be to take away one of the film's many pleasures which is the rich feeling of everlasting discovery with which children face their summer vacations and miniature adventures. Of course, this being a movie and all, their adventure demands to be seen on the big screen, yet under the expert hands of Abrams, the film never loses that sheer cinematic delight which invites audience members to think things like these might happen to them as well.
Shot as a loving tribute to Steven Spielberg's E.T.: the Extra-terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the film reminds us of a time when going to the movies assured us that we were in for a treat. Abrams not only pays homage to Spielberg by recreating his cinematic style (along with the superb DP Larry Fong who despite his overuse of flare achieves some stunning work by reminding us that images can be epic and economic) the director also manages to emulate the emotional content of these iconic films in ways that not even Spielberg himself can achieve now.
Abrams' directing of children is astonishing because he lets them be without having them forget that they are after all playing parts in a movie, this is especially poignant in scenes where the kids shoot their own film and it can arguably be said that Abrams has them playing characters on three different levels.
Despite all the makings of a geek landmark, the film is especially admirable because it's able to work as entertainment and aesthetic treatise, notice the way in which Abrams toys with genre and reminds us that cinema has always tried to position itself in two different aspects of existence. Perhaps the film might have some autobiographical touches - the aforementioned character of Charles for example - but it also succeeds by becoming a mirror onto which the audience can project their own life experiences. It might be corny to say so but more often than not Super 8 is a reminder of why we even go to the movies in the first place.