Super 8 (2011)

June 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney in J.J. Abrams' Spielbergian "Super 8"

Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams

Starring Joel Courteney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Noah Emmerich and Ron Eldard

First and foremost Super 8 is a film about kids and growing up. J.J. Abrams has gone on record as saying he had an idea for a “Stand By Me” type film about adolescents and a separate idea for a classic monster movie, an idea that would improve upon the concepts Cloverfield explored. Spielberg gave him the idea to combine the two ideas into one project, which bore Super 8, an unabashed throwback to the heyday of Amblin Entertainment movies like “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, in particular by setting the film in small town America circa the 1970’s.

Super 8 is a wonderful kids film that doesn’t insult the intelligence of tweenagers, presenting them with fairly realistic 3-dimensional characters who you really feel for. In particular Elle Fanning shines as the apple of our main character Joel Courtney’s eye. Courteney is wonderfully cast as he has a youthfully innocent look while being able to convey a complex range of emotions like a normal person, regardless of age. Likewise, Kyle Chandler is perfectly cast as a classic true-blue American small-town hero. He’s Courteney’s abrasive father and the town sheriff. Their relationship is strained but at the end of the day the Sheriff has his son’s best interests at heart, even if he doesn’t understand his kid. Chandler provides old school Hollywood square-jawed good looks and gravitas while lending some emotional poignancy to his characters own journey as he tries to save his town while being a father to his son.

In all these respects, J.J. Abrams hit this film out of the park. The monster stuff is almost superfluous. You’ve got the corrupt government officials, the scary, inept military being trumped by all the small town folks, etc. but its done well. The way Abrams hides the monster most of the film and the power of the reveal tells me that his main concern was not shocking or scaring his audience, but giving these kids a venue in which to grow up quickly without having to resort to issues that would have been too dark like abuse or terminal illness. The monster is a metaphor, but a well done metaphor.

This is the kind of film you don’t want to talk about too much in a review because to give away anything would be to ruin part of the experience. It’s not on the level of E.T., (actually it comes closest to E.T.’s impact) Stand by Me or Close Encounters of the Third Kind or even JAWS (which the monster stuff is clearly inspired by), but it comes damn close as far as modern films are concerned and harkens back successfully to a bygone era of deeply personal family-friendly blockbusters.

The score is a little over bearing and J.J. Abrams’ visual cues to the older films (like the lens flares ala’ Close Encounters) can feel a bit obvious but his goal is sincere and his aim is mostly true, so for today’s generation of kids growing up without intelligent kids films, Super 8 is a rare exception and hopefully opens the gate to them viewing older films that did such a wonderful job of combining intelligent thrills with family-friendly content.

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