Director J.J. Abrams new film "Super 8" set in 1979, tells the story of a group of children who while filming their own Super 8 movie for an upcoming competition, are present as a speeding train derails, releasing a dangerous alien into their town. Partly in homage to pop culture films of the 70's and 80's, "Super 8" is produced by Steven Spielberg, whose earliest blockbuster films are the spiritual predecessors to this excellent summer popcorn flick.
For my money, Super 8 proved to be a winner. Where as some critics take it to task for being too reverent of old-school films, I felt that the framework of the movie was in many ways superior to past hits that Super 8 has tried to reflect. Think about it, in movies like Gremlins, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, etc., often things were fairly normal for the central characters and the intruding supernatural element was the primary aberrant event that occurred in the paradigm of those stories. Remove the creature, restore the balance at the end, and things go back to the way they were.
In Super 8, the central characters lives have all been wrecked by a personal tragedy that binds this little community together and the appearance of an extraterrestrial threat, as huge as it is, is quite secondary to the ripples affecting these peoples lives. Like Spielberg before him, Abrams has found a young cast of actors to make you pine for, and they do so brilliantly. Elle Fanning stands out as the brightest of this young group and her facial expressions alone reveal much pain that the films dialogue doesn't exactly express. Pay close attention to her for "additional" information that is in effect only inferred by her fine performance. It will make you think about missing information relative to her family, that otherwise could have been simply stated in the regular dialogue. Whether this subtlety was intended or not, it worked for me. And that's not to minimize Joel Courtney's lead role of young Joe Lamb. He is the "everyman" through whose eyes we experience this story, and he is terrific.
Kyle Chandler plays his workaholic deputy-sheriff father, unable to relate to his son, who had been largely raised by his recently deceased wife, and Ron Eldard, as little more than the town drunk (and who may have inadvertently caused the death of Joe's mother), appears more sympathetic once the reasons behind his self-destructive behavior emerge. Of course, this is a big budget creature feature and Abrams effectively utilizes this beast to great effect. I was pleased that the monster was ever so slowly revealed throughout the movie and not overly relied upon. It made that aspect more "real" to me. At the conclusion, the arrival of the alien itself creates an opportunity in which Joe and his father, and Alice and her father, find closure, peace and forgiveness. The bonds that they establish will carry them forward better than they were and the beauty of "Super 8" is that even then, the creature feature aspect remains secondary to this stronger element of the story. Nice!
Super 8 won the weekend box office battle with a more modest haul than expected, but given that huge blockbusters roll out weekly during the summer months, they can't all go to the head of the class. Don't miss out on this film, its overall story is a bit quieter than may be expected, but all the more effective as a result. Recommended!