MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi/ Stars: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, AJ Michalka, Joel McKinnon Miller, Jessica Tuck, Brett Rice, Michael Giacchino, Michael Hitchcock, Jay Scully, Noah Emmerich, Richard T. Jones, Bruce Greenwood, David Gallagher, Glynn Turman, Beau Knapp, Dan Castellaneta, Caitriona Balfe, Dale Dickey/ Runtime: 112 minutes
I think it is safe to say that in his time in Hollywood, J.J. Abrams is one filmmaker who has successfully been able to overcome being simply a “name on everyone’s mind” and truly proven that he both has what it takes to be a true icon in the industry, but also that he is thankfully going to be around awhile. News that those of us who love and appreciate original ideas and inspiring vision have truly come to cheer seeing as the world of movie magic here lately doesn’t seem to have as much….well magic as it used to. Indeed Abrams’ narrative-regaling talent, his natural creativity, and his sense to make his films as authentically as possible really have helped to transform him into one of the world of movie magic’s and just entertainment in general’s finest. I mean his show “Lost” was something truly special. Yes you can argue it went off the rails a little bit, but it still was a fine, riveting, complex, and engage program on television. On the film side of things not only is Mission: Impossible 3 which he helmed back in 2006 a delightful example of a summer action film made right, but his Star Trek films from 2009, 2011, and 2016 all also are wonderful examples of how to both reimagine whilst also staying faithful to what fans love the most from one of the most iconic sci-fi series’ of all time. This then brings us to a film Abrams directed in 2011 by the name of Super 8 and I am pleased to say that we have another winner on our hands here. Indeed not only is this a film which takes the idea of youthful fantasy and makes it real, but it is also a film created by the imagination of someone who is young at heart and is a throwback to a different era that, although filmed in modern style, is one which has a sense of fun that is truly timeless. Above all though, Super 8 is not only movie magic made real, but it is a film that works as a fine representation of all the positives associated with the bond between the movies and the power of the human imagination.
The plot is as follows: It’s a time of mourning in a small town in Ohio known as Lillian. This is because an employee of the town mill has tragically passed away in a workplace accident and in the process left behind her husband, sheriff’s deputy Jackson Lamb and their young son, Joe to fend for themselves. Four months later and we see that Jackson and Joe, whilst still grieving in their own ways, are trying to move on as best as they can. To that end, we see that although Jackson wants Joe to go to baseball camp, Joe wants to stay in town and aid his pal Charles in the creation of a Super 8 Zombie flick he is making that he aspires to enter into a content. Yet things soon look dicey when Charles’ lead actress Alice has issues with working on an integral scene to the movie due to Joe’s involvement because of the unresolved issues between their fathers. Fortunately for Charles and the rest of the filmmaking team comprised of lead Martin, background character Preston, and zombie expert/ resident pyromaniac Cary, Alice decides to do it and, in the process, shows she is an amazing actress. Whilst filming however, Charles can’t believe when an actual speeding train heads to the station where they are shooting because….production values (?). Things take a turn for the tragic however when a truck hits the train head-on thus causing Thomas the Tank Engine to completely derail and a worse wreck to ensue than the one Thomas made in 2000. Jokes aside, while our intrepid group is fine, but shake they quickly learn that things might not be as they seem especially when no less a presence than the U.S. Military arrives in town in the immediate aftermath and odd things start to happen around town. Things like the power flickering, and both items and town citizens start vanishing. Thus can our intrepid group of heroes figure out just what is going on and in the process save the town? That I will leave for you to discover dear reader…
Now even though there is a lot to love in regards to this film, if you were forced to reduce the whole movie including narrative, the cast of characters, and technical skill among other positives down to one defining attribute then that attribute would have to be balance. Indeed the movie plays out with a synchronicity that is quite phenomenal. Indeed it feels quite glossed up yet also a wee bit rough seeing as this is shown through the point of view of a group of kids who come to comprehend pathos and sets of values that a lot of people older than them never know. Indeed this film’s narrative is as moving as it is riveting, as phenomenally constructed and brilliantly put together as it is just plain old fun, and as emotional as it is engaging. Yet it is that last ingredient- this movie’s genuine emotion which is created out of a wonderful cast of characters and a fantastic foundation that is this movie’s single best strength. Indeed from the movie’s potent opening onward, the movie’s basic narrative structure is one which is constructed around a personal calamity that will, as the movie goes on, help characters come to understand and appreciate forgiveness, and how important it is to move on in order to finally be free from the mistakes that occurred in the past so that way the individual soul can be free too. Indeed it is this beautiful outpouring of emotion that is personified through the duration of the movie as well as its genius yet simplistic conclusion. Indeed the fact that this movie is as moving and emotional as it is riveting is an ode to just how brilliantly put together and intelligently thought out this film is.
Now in a way this film feels a lot like Abrams’ TV show “Lost”. I say that, because much like the show, this is a film that has a slowly unfurling narrative and characters, themes, and events which transform as the movie goes on. More than anything though, I would have to say that this is a delightful modern version of the timeless story “Stand by Me”. This is because, above anything else, this is a movie that deals with youthful discovery and bonds being created during a truly extraordinary adventure all while being showcased to us through the point of a view of a kid. Yes the movie does take a different path than Rob Reiner’s film due to the monster film twist inserted into it, but at its heart this is still a film very much about the bond of friendship, but even more crucially and as shown to us through the bond between Joe and Alice, a tale of discovery on the inside, of a bond made, of a friendship created, and of an unsaid love conjured up in the aftermath of a horrific calamity. Indeed a simple idea to be sure, but nevertheless very brilliantly put together. To that end, every single character in this is wonderfully brought to life and every single actor brings 110% and manages to give a performance that is something truly special. Ultimately, Super 8 is a film that never loses its magic touch that it has with the audience no matter what streets it goes down since it always returns back to the same basic values that hold constant and steady no matter what.
Now for as wonderful as it is on a pathos level, Super 8 also manages to triumph also as a timeless creature feature as well. Indeed this is a film which is delightfully cheesy in certain spots as well as relishes this aspect of the story with cliché characters and dialogue that really feel like they are a part of the Sci-Fi films from the 50s. Ultimately though, that is the majesty of this particular aspect of the film since it helps to showcase just how good the film is at ensnaring the essence of a genre that had, at one time, been seen as running its course and blending into it a fair amount of heart, incredible special effects work, riveting characters, and an intriguing narrative. Indeed this is a film that can best be seen as a timeless B-film that has been upgraded with A-Level skill. A skill level, incidentally, that I feel J.J. can pull off due to the fact that the monster movie component is but a single ingredient that is being utilized to bring the narrative’s stronger ingredients to the surface whilst also having some fun with a bigger budget. Indeed suffice it to say then that the blending together of retro old school filmmaking, 50s sci fi ingredients, and modern technical skill is a true delight for an audience that truly appreciate the skill needed to make it work. Indeed this really is not only what a film should be, but also just one of the finest films of 2011 period.
All in all I think it is safe to say that Super 8 might just be a wonderful representation of what cinema truly is all about at its heart and core. Indeed here is a film that looks like a riveting escapist slice of cinematic pie, but is one which is rooted in genuine drama and pathos. Not only that, but it also has wonderful performances and a terrific sense of chemistry between the youthful thespians at the heart of the story as well as coming equipped with jaw-dropping visual effects and production work that aid this film in feeling more fulfilling. Indeed it is, for all intents and purposes, a film that is the living embodiment of just what Charles wants to put inside his film in the movie thus making me wonder just how much of a young J.J. Abrams can be found amidst the kids in this movie. Indeed Super 8 is a winning example of just how simple it can be to make a truly great film. Indeed, more than anything else, it all revolves around the characters, the plot they are a part of, and having the heart to make everything come to life in a way that feels real. Indeed the supporting ingredients are there to simply support the bigger picture at play which is, on a superficial level, overrun by both the scope and effects work as well as the core narrative. Thus Super 8 really truly is a true delight to watch and a modern example of that indelible phenomenon that is movie magic at work. On a scale of 1-5 I give Super 8 a solid 4 out of 5.