By Skip Tucker
June 12, 2011
2011 is shaping up to be a pretty good movie year. I liked “Source Code” and “Thor,” and I really liked “X-Men: First Class.” But “Super 8” is (so far, anyway) the pick of the litter. Set in 1979, the story of a group of middle-schoolers (wasn’t it called “Junior High” back then?) making a film during their summer vacation is the kind of adolescent innocence we can all relate to and it's featured extraordinarily well in this film. It poignantly tells the story of childhood friendships, family conflicts and first loves.
The kids have decided to make a film about zombies using a Super 8 camera for a film festival coming up. They sneak out one night to film scenes at a train station when they witness an incredibly horrific train crash. The camera is knocked over but keeps filming, but it isn’t until halfway through the movie that we catch a glimpse of the dangerous cargo it captured. The kids flee the scene just as the military arrives and, not too long after that, the town starts experiencing some mighty strange goings-on, including objects and people disappearing.
The kids are mostly unknown newcomers and are brilliantly cast. None of them are any more obnoxious or precocious than necessary. Joel Courtney (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Henry Thomas from “E.T.”) plays the pint-sized hero Joe Lamb. Ryan Lee is the braces-sporting kid who loves things that explode, and Riley Griffiths is terrific as Charles, the portly writer-director of their movie who runs around screaming “Production value!” But it’s Elle Fanning (Dakota’s younger sister) who demonstrates some serious acting chops. You’re going to see more of her.
It’s pretty obvious that writer-director J.J. Abrams is paying homage to Steven Spielberg here. The two men first met in the early 1980s, when Abrams was a teenager making his own Super 8 movies, and Spielberg was looking for someone to repair his 8 mm childhood films.
I can imagine the pitch writer-director J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek,” “Lost,” “Fringe”) made to the studios.
“Okay, I got this great idea for a movie!”
“What’s it about?”
"Well, think ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ meets ‘Cloverfield’ meets ‘E.T.’ Oh yeah, and toss in m ‘The Goonies’ while you’re at it. And maybe some “War of the Worlds.”
“Hmmm, I don’t know…”
“Spielberg is producing it.”
Granted, there’s not much that’s original about this move, but it works, and it’s a blast to watch.