The movie is truly the love child of Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams. It is a film that shares the combined strengths of each filmmaker’s dna, without bringing too many of the bad genes along for the ride.
JJ really has made a pure Spielberg flick, maybe even more so than Spielberg himself has ever done. I sound crazy I know, but let’s just look at the ‘Spielberg’ elements quick. Sense of mystery – check. Sense of wonder – check. Strong, well cast characters – check. Brilliant child performances – check. Tension – check. Distant father figures – check. Great action set pieces – check.
On that last note, the ‘train crash’ set piece is one of the finest, albeit longest and loudest, action scenes of recent years. It does for the big screen what Lost’s opening plane crash did for the small screen. It’s a well punctuated sequence of crashes, bangs and collisions that will have your heart in your mouth, and keep you out of breath for a good few minutes once the wreckage has settled.
It’s all here! JJ has written and directed an amazing film on a small budget ($50 Million) for a picture of this scale. Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) brings a great sense of vulnerability to his absent father / town sheriff role, but it’s the children of the film that really shine, showing that Abrams truly has talent for directing performances, as well as being able to concoct amazing action and mind bending plots (Lost, Fringe).
The whole gang of kids are a fantastic bunch, conjuring up fond memories of another Spielberg produced flick, The Goonies. Both Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning deliver knockout performances as the young, wide-eyed protagonists, whose innocent romance is something truly special, in a world where sweat, short skirts and sex seem to be the only way to portray love. This is a humble film, with heart. Innocent, yet epic. It is, by far, the best film I’ve seen this year.
I will end on a note, not of criticism, but of observation. Super 8 could maybe be described as ET meets The Goonies. My observation is that although Super 8 is an amazing picture in itself, and a fantastic homage to the likes of ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I do not imagine it becoming the cultural phenomenon and iconic film that ET was. I don’t think JJ Abrams was trying for such a feat anyway, but this thought crossed my mind. I know that one cannot plan to make a cultural phenomenon, but JJ did perhaps shoot himself in the box office foot. The marketing strategy was so surrounded in mystery that I don’t think enough people heard about it or even remotely knew what they would be seeing. Secondly, I do believe they targeted the wrong audience. The central characters are very young, and although this film will be enjoyable to several generations, they perhaps should have targeted the younger generation more specifically. I think both pre-release marketing and merchandising could have raised the box office potential and created more of an event of the picture that it did in and of intself. But hey, I sound like a money hungry, Hollywood executive, so I’m going to stop now…. this is after all, the best film I’ve seen all year.