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 Super 8 (2011)

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Super 8 (2011)   Thu Aug 11, 2011 11:36 pm

Jeffrey Jacob Abrams got into the film industry at a young age, he was only 16 when he composed music for the cult horror creature feature Nightbeast (1982), but from there on, Abrams was able to get his foot in the door of Hollywood, doing scripts for such films as Regarding Henry (1991) and Forever Young (1992), but he got his real big break when he wrote Armageddon (1998), which became a big hit, and gave Abrams more clout, with it, he created TV shows like Felicity, Alias and of course, Lost. However, Hollywood still wanted him for films, and Tom Cruise got him to write and direct Mission: Impossible III (2006), an underrated sequel but that was a stepping stone to what Abrams would do next. He produced the mysterious, secretive Cloverfield (2008) and then he gave Star Trek a reboot, bringing it kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, giving the long running franchise some new fans and giving it a new attitude after years of half-hearted sequels and different TV series. With that, Abrams now had the clout to make whatever he wanted, he collaberated on a top secret project with Steven Spielberg producing. No-one knew anything about what Abrams was doing, even the teaser didn't tell us anything. But, the less we know, the better the film might be, and Super 8 proves to be an entertaining adventure on the coming of age against the backdrop of an invasion of sorts, but it's also a homage to the sort of films Spielberg used to produce back 30 or so years ago.

In 1979 in the industrial town of Lillian, Ohio, 13 year old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is coming to terms with the death of his mother who died in an industrial accident. His father Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) is the Deputy Sheriff of Lillian, and is now having to face bringing up his son along. A few months later, and Joe is with his friends making a zombie film on Super 8mm film for a contest. It's masterminded by Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths), who is directing the film, and it's being made with Preston (Zach Mills) who is acting in it, Cary (Ryan Lee) is the cameraman, Martin (Gabriel Basso) is the lead actor, and Alice (Elle Fanning) is the lead actress, while Joe is on make-up. While filming scenes at an abandoned railway depot, a train passes by, and they take advantage of the opportunity. However, further up the track, a pick up drives onto the track while they're filming and crashes into the train head on. Causing it to derail violently, nearly killing the kids. The Super 8 camera is still rolling, and captures alot of detail of what happens next, something escapes from one of the carriages. Shortly afterwards, weird things start happening around the town of Lillian. Electrical appliances go missing, from car engines to microwaves and wiring from electric poles. Dogs go missing too, and the US Air Force arrive in town led by the hardass Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich). They're collecting the wreckage from the crash, and they want to make sure no-one knows about what really happened, but the kids discovered a hidden conspiracy from their biology teacher Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), who was involved in a government operation years earlier. People start going missing, and the US Air Force want everyone to evacuate, but the kids are now in too deep, and want to discover the truth of what's causing all these strange things to happen, plus they have a film to finish. And the events has Charles adding new plot points to his film. Plus, there's also some weird white cubes that have a life of their own.

It's a refreshing change to see a film like this in a summer of what has been mostly made up of disappointing sequels and films that haven't lived up to their potential. It's an adventure set in a time before the internet and computers, a more innocent time where the Soviets were being blamed for any unexplained things happening. It's a very entertaining film that harks back to what Spielberg used to make years ago, and other coming of age from back then, from Stand By Me (1986) as well as kids-on-adventure films, from The Goonies (1985) to Joe Dante's underrated Explorers (1985). But, it's also gripping as well, with a few jumps too, especially as we get closer to discovering what it is that's causing all these things to happen, including one set-up with the kids as prisoners in an army truck. Abrams keeps the mystery and the suspense up, but he has a good eye for detail too, bringing the late 1970's to life with colour and panache, using a greatest hits from the late 1970's as it's soundtrack along with Michael Giacchino giving a nod and a wink to John Williams with his score.

Abrams went for mostly unknowns with his cast, two of them newcomers with Courtney and Griffiths. Both giving brilliant performances on their first times out, Courtney's Joe being a sensitive young teen, coming to terms with his loss, and finding romance with Fanning's Alice (who shows an innocence like Joe, as she's from a broken home), whereas Griffiths' Charles has more of an ego as the director of the 8mm opus, he has a vision and his catchphrase of "This is mint!!" is quite infectious. The support from Lee, Mills and Basso adds to the camaraderie between the friends, a filmmaking team who will finish their film in the face of disaster and the US Air Force getting their way about things. The adults make a good constrast to the innocence of the kids, from over-protective (Kyle Chandler as Joe's father Jack isn't happy of the film his friends are making) to guilt-stricken (Ron Eldard as Alice's father, Louis was absent at work and Joe's Mum had to take it, and ended in her death), and just plain bad eggs, (Noah Emmerich's Colonel Nelec blocks any inquiries that Jack has about what his team are up to, and the extreme measures they take.) But, for a little known cast, they're do good, especially the kids.



It is a loving homage to Spielberg's early productions, from one's he directed (Close Encounters to E.T.) and ones he produced in the 1980's. Abrams has fun with this film, and shows his emergence as a good director. He showed good confidence with his first two films as director, and this was his most personal film to date. Wanting to mix his personal love of making Super 8 films as a child, with the mystery of a government cover-up with something that no-one knows of. It harks back to a time with kids as the lead characters, and the dangers they got into. If Paul (2011) referenced Spielberg's work directly with a sense of humour about the proceedings by quoting lines, this homages his work more seriously and it's more of a love letter to films that Abrams grew up with too, and it still would have worked if it had been more back then. Although the mood of the film changes once we know what the cause of it all is, it still manages to grip and be entertaining at the same time. But, unlike alot of films out in 2011 where special effects are the star of the show, this manages to put it's humans at the front of the film. Them first, whatever else second, and that helps add to the mystery of Super 8.
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