MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
I personally found all the hype and viral mystique surrounding Super 8 rather annoying, stale and cliché. JJ Abrams (director) and Stephen Spielberg (credited as a producer) seem to have their names tacked on to just about everything these days. Finally both men team up to create the ultimate Hollywood power-couple. With all the build up and the UK release a full 2 months after the US opening there was something slightly frustrating about Abrams’ latest directorial expedition and that’s before even entering the cinema. Just show us the bloody film.
Thankfully, following all the unnecessary hype there’s something quite charming about this retro, sci fi blockbuster. The film focuses on a group of budding young filmmakers, coming of age amidst a town confused and under attack. A train derailment occurs in the middle of filming, releasing a strange presence and mysterious occurrences throughout their town. I have to say, the train derailment was one of the finest uses of CGI and effects I’ve seen in a while. Yes, it might have been a bit over the top, but I felt utterly absorbed in the chaos and it definitely had parallels to Abrams’ direction of the iconic wreckage of Oceanic 815 in the pilot episode of Lost. All the effects in the film do feel expertly performed without being overused, with the balance just right. Lens flares and all, this certainly has Abrams’ mark.
But it’s the children keeping the film together. In particular Alice (played by Elle Fanning) who looks to be a real star. Abrams recognizes this and allows her to do much of the emotional work. The children’s quirkiness is mixed nicely with their sentimentality and you can really care for them as characters, something that happens far too rarely in similar big-explosion-blockbusters. Newcomer Joel Courtney plays Joe Lamb, a boy whose strained relationship with his father prevents both from overcoming the death of his mother, a relationship that feels utterly convincing and slowly unraveled. His father, Jackson (Jackson Lamb, Jack Shepherd, geddit Lost fans?), is played by Kyle Chandler who offers a subtle but touching performance as we learn more about his character. It’s these relationships that feel genuine and glue the film together whilst the monster madness builds behind. In the end, the sci fi craziness and typically Abrams-esque conspiracy subplot feels more like a vehicle for the characters, certainly a refreshing decision.
In terms of plot, it may lack originality and be deliberately referential to monster and fantasy films of the 80s, and I’m sure that will bother some. But there’s something simple and delightful about Super 8. It won’t leave you thinking too hard or emotionally drained, but it will remind you that with a decent script and director, even the most uncomplicated sci-fi ideas can leave you smiling.
Super 8 is out on 5th August in the UK and out now in the US. Certificate 12A (UK). Running time 112 mins.
Review by David Rank