If you were born in the decade of Huey Lewis and the News, Nintendo and Reagan then it was required that you watch films such as E.T., The Goonies, Back to the Future and other such cinematic magic. Amblin Entertainment was, especially in the late 80's and early 90's, the dream factory. Spielberg honed his skills in those earlier days and gave us films that not only were appropriate for all ages but were just damn good movies.
Hallmarks of those movies are the emotional authenticity of the kids involved, fantastic storylines and a sense of wonder.
JJ Abrams has, very clearly, seen all of these movies and more. It is clear, from moment one, that this is Abrams' way of not only crafting a loving homage to those movies that helped to shape his artistic vision and voice but also knows how to make a fantastic summer film.
Thor kicked off summer with a real bang I thought, but Super 8 solidifies the season as one of the best in recent memory for quality. That's not even taking into account the Marvel franchise entries, and other big flicks on the horizon.
This is a film that not only knows its roots and embraces them, but manages to entertain, enthrall and touch us in ways that movies of this scale and budget haven't been able to do in some time.
Abrams is, without a doubt, one of the more dynamic auteurs working in the industry today as his film and television resume would attest, but this is a beast of another kind as far as I'm concerned.
This is not only a monster flick that could have easily been right at home along those of the 1950's but it is also a coming of age tale, an emotional ride and a special effects bonanza that is, at times, astounding.
Is it perfect? No it isn't, but it doesn't need to be. There are some issues with plotting that spring up, but honestly I only really noticed them once the credits were rolling. The pacing of the script paired with snappy dialogue gets a definite thumbs up from this critic.
That leads me to the performances in this movie. The lead, Joel Courtney, brings a weight to his role that few actors his age can do. Elle Fanning, as the romantic interest, will be a star. The rest of the young cast is comprised of strong young actors who, for the most part, deliver the goods. The ancillary character of Cary (Ryan Lee), especially, is a joy to watch with his pyromania and wide-eyed wonder. The adults aren't so important in this film as they tend to be in these sorts of films, but performances all around are uniform in their strength.
The special effects, for nearly 97% of the movie are dazzling with an exception of one or two shots that felt as though they could have used a bit of polish. Abrams is the sort to analyze each and every frame for his version of perfection so I found that a bit strange, but it was nothing that detracted from the fun. The creature is well-designed and when we finally get a glimpse of it the effect is quite powerful. There is one scene in particular involving Courtney and the creature that nearly brought a tear to my eye.
The kids, in the midst of making a filmed entry for the Cleveland Film Festival, manage to capture something on their Super 8 camera that, well, is something the small town of Lillian, Ohio has never seen before. Chaos ensues, the military is involved and well you can probably figure out the rest. This isn't something we haven't seen before, but it doesn't matter honestly. We are, instead, left with a extremely strong summer film that carries with it the emotional weight and honesty that only children can bring in such a situation. These movies work as they do because of the fact that through the eyes of children situations that are extraordinary are even moreso, they are as fantastic and awe-inspiring as they should be. The taint of adult cynicism isn't present yet, and we, the audience, are the better for it.
My only real complaint with the movie is that at times Abrams didn't seem sure just how scary he wanted the film to be with uneven moments of peril sometimes juxtaposed next to really obscure and veiled shots of the creature in question.
This is a movie worth watching. Don't go into it expecting E.T., though. The similarities are there, sure, but this is still a uniquely Abrams experience that benefits from the watchful eye of Spielberg. The major criticism brought against it seems to be that it doesn't capture the same magic Steven did so many years ago. There is only one Spielberg. Abrams is certainly great, but he's not to the level of The Great One yet. That doesn't make this a bad movie, in fact, because it is actually quite a good one.
Leave the expectation of the old Amblin magic at the door, and instead, be prepared to experience a unique film that hits all the right buttons and keeps the summer season humming along at a brisk pace.