D/W: J.J. Abrams. DP: Larry Fong. Starring: Joel Courtney/Elle Fanning/Kyle Chandler/Riley Griffiths/Ryan Lee/Gabriel Basso/Zach Mills/Noah Emmerich/Ron Eldard/Glynn Turman.
Probably the summer’s most anticipated release (with the exception of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows – Part 2), Super 8 will remind audiences everywhere what great movies are made of and just exactly why we love the cinema.
Although similar thematically to other “new aliens/things we can’t see” films, Super 8 adoringly follows the attempt of a group of middle school friends to make a zombie film over the summer to be submitted to a local festival. The leader of the project is slightly chubby and in charge Charles (Griffiths) who enlists his best friend Joe (Courtney) to round up the crew and help. Griffiths and Courtney are full of charm, true instincts, and are greatly supported by their other three friends, played by equally young actors. And while prompting the comparisons of the film to 1985’s The Goonies or 1986’s Stand by Me, the boys give off this sense of spunk, comradely and unabashed youth that rings true. Anyone who isn’t immediately smitten should check their pulse upon leaving the movie theater.
Amidst all these boys and their zombie make-up is ethereal and bright Elle Fanning as Alice, the object of Griffiths’ and Courtney’s fumbling affection. Enlisted to act in their film, Fanning is somehow able to mix elegance and innocence throughout her character’s journey. She is definitely someone to watch for. And it is the night of their first outdoor shoot that the kids witness a train crash that spirals them and the town into a state of frenzy over strange occurrences and the appearance of the national guard. Fervent in his belief that someone is up to no good is Deputy Lamb, Courtney’s father played by Kyle Chandler. Conflicted and forever paternal, Chandler gives the best performance he can while still allowing all the kids to steal the show.
Working in the film’s favor is its setting, as being in a remote Texas town in 1979 allows the story to ignore flashy special effects, and give the film a heart audiences can access. The year setting also gives Super 8 a sheen of nostalgia that breathes life into the frame and reiterates its homage to Spielberg’s (who was a producer on the film) past work. Yet this also draws focus away from the creature or creatures or thing or things that escape from the train crash. Although there has been much talk of the reveal of this element of the plot, I would argue that it simply does not matter. Because by the time that veil is removed, you are so invested that you want to know how it all ends.
Ultimately, the reason audiences and critics will love Super 8 is because it feels complete. Abrams creates his world, his vision and is committed to building a full circle story that although appears to end at the credits, actually continues in your mind because it has taken you somewhere. The same reason at the end of 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, 1942’s Casablanca, 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia, and of course, Spielberg’s own 1982’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, just to name a few, you are left with a sense of wonder. A sense that this is what cinema should be like. Larger than life, yet accessible and enjoyable from the first frame to the last. Just like finishing an amazing novel, with Super 8 you smile, lean back, and say that was great, when can I do it again?