JJ Abrams has to be the God of geeks today. He was the co-creator of the TV show Lost, earning a widespread fanbase through its first seasons but then when the ratings trumped the series finale renewed interest and debate. Abrams also earned respect from the Trekkies for rebooting Star Trek, a deeper and solid prequel counting the first days of the original TV series. Now his latest film Super 8 may well be a love letter to his longtime hero and influential filmmaker Steven Spielberg whose still stuck in producing movies now.
It's 1979 and has been four months since Joe Lamb (Joey Courtney) lost his mother in a car accident and is now living with his widowed father (Kyle Chandler) who's the Sheriff of a rural town. Joe set to help out his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) to make his zombie movie as an entry for a nearby film festival. The film also involves Alice (Elle Fanning) acting in his film. In spectacular fashion, a freight train derailed while the kids were in the middle of shooting a scene. Following the aftermath of the event, the military are all around the town, dogs evacuate since they know better such and residents suddenly disappear. I've told half of the plot summary because I don't want to place spoilers in particular 'The Thing'.
In a summer filled with a lack of originality, following sequels, prequels, remakes and movies based on comic books, Super 8 is the exception to that rule. It's almost the most original summer blockbuster since Inception. But saying that it's original is like saying a photograph had been taken but it's literally filled with tens of people you've previously took before. Super 8 is a collection of nostagia paying homage to Spielberg's greatest material from the past, directed and produced focusing on the themes, characters and the style Spielberg put into his films. These include Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T., Jaws, The Goonies and even Saving Private Ryan (if you know what I mean). But it also pay tribute to Abram's previous film (he produced) Cloverfield, the monster movie which not a lot of people enjoyed.
Though the homages was executed well, for me, it somehow doesn't feel inventive or fresh as much as Inception was and it may have been a rehash as there's too much. If it had been directed by Spielberg himself, he would've gone back to his roots that had made him the greatest contempory filmmaker ever. Having said that, this is not the first time Spielberg's work was referenced so much. Earlier this year, we had Paul, the E.T. parody starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost also a love letter but to the science fiction genre cleverly satirising it.
Abrams' direction is visceral as he brings not only a high level of imagination and concept that will make this film a crowd-pleaser, but also bringing in an emotional poignancy to its heart. The cinematography is crisp as well as the production design capturing the year of 1979. The soundtrack from Michael Giannchano mesmerises you to the adventures.
As already mentioned, the heart of Super 8 is brought to an emotional rise that doesn't contain a bit of sediment. The heart of the film are the kids paralleling the characters of The Goonies and E.T. The casting of the children are perfect for this film and they are revelations. Joe Courtney who plays Joey reminds me of the boy from E.T. who experiences loss from his parents and the romance between him and Alice (a star-maker for Elle Fanning) to move away from these feelings seems equate to the relationship between E.T. and the boy. Riley Griffith who plays Joe's best friend and amateur filmmaker steals the show playing the role of comic relief in this film with his swearing and profanity. It's the first time I've seen a cast of kids do so well because of the realistic and witty dialogue from Abrams that is not dumbed down to a certain point. Kyle Chandler is fine as Joe's single father.
Where the film comes to the last 15 minutes, the film's final moments make it felt downright corny and tries too hard on Spielberg by copying his endings which feels so inconsistent to his films when Super 8 became immensely good. But if you have time to leave at the start of the end credits, don't. There's a special treat during that help pick up the film's tone.
Overall Super 8 is a crowd pleaser, whether you're a Spielberg afficionado bringing in the intense, sometimes scary, and emotionally compromised material he used to do. This may not be going for any Oscars, but it's the best blockbuster of the summer and may land a spot at my end-of-year best list