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Super 8 Review

By Joe Lozito

Children of Then


If Alfred Hitchcock mastered the "ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances" plot, then surely Steven Spielberg brought us the "ordinary town in extraordinary circumstances" scenario. In the late 70s and early 80s, with movies like "Jaws", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "Poltergeist" (which he co-produced) and "E.T.", Mr. Spielberg excelled at creating evocative snapshots of suburban America. Audiences ate it up, and it spawned a wealth of copycats, some more successful ("Back to the Future") than others ("The Goonies", there I said it). Mr. Spielberg rather famously cut his teeth making 8mm films in his backyard - as did another Hollywood heavyweight, J.J. Abrams. And now, in a fit of cyclical Tinseltown inspiration, Mr. Abrams brings us "Super 8", a lovingly nostalgic tribute to those early Spielberg gems.

Mr. Abrams, directing from his own script, does a masterful job of setting the atmosphere, courtesy of some spot-on production design. The living rooms are all chaotic browns and greens, with children's toys strewn everywhere. We quickly meet young Joe Lamb who, as his name implies, is a true innocent. He and his gang of misfit schoolkids are attempting to make a zombie movie during their summer break using the titular camera. As was typical in Spielbergian Americana, there are single parent issues: Joe's mom was recently killed in a tragic accident and his father (Kyle Chandler, a great choice) is too busy being the town deputy to be a parent. Likewise, the object of Joe's affection, Alice (a superb Elle Fanning), lives only with her dad.

During a late night filming session at the local train station, Joe and the gang witness a spectacularly improbable, absurdly over-the-top train crash. They capture something on their Super 8 camera, and it's not long before the government has their small Ohio steel town locked down. Then it's a race to figure out what the military is hiding and save the day.

Yep, it's precocious kids uncovering a government plot that threatens their families and their town, and it's up to them to solve the case. Along the way the may just learn some valuable life lessons and maybe, just maybe, find love. Sound like fun? Not really. But when it's done with the love and humor that Mr. Abrams brings to "Super 8", the formula works. Happily, he has chosen a stellar cast of young actors to carry the film. Aside from Ms. Fanning, newcomer Joel Courtney is perfect as Joe. And the kids actually look - and act - like they might be from 1979 (haircuts and all).

No fair giving away too much of the plot. As he did with "Cloverfield", Mr. Abrams has taken great pains to keep the film's secrets as under wraps as possible (and frankly, the "big reveal" is disappointing and rather secondary to the enjoyment of the film). Happily, the director learned one other thing from Steven Spielberg: the less you show the better. Sadly, the same can't be said of the soundtrack, which is littered with explosive jolts and scares. But if you can get past that - and the cognitive dissonance of watching a movie called "Super 8" on an IMAX screen - you're likely to be swept up in the nostalgia of a time when kids could outsmart the military. You'll think of movies like "E.T.", "Stand By Me" and, yes, "The Goonies". And you'll think of them fondly.

What did you think?

Movie title Super 8
Release year 2011
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary J.J. Abrams' lovingly nostalgic tribute to early Spielberg will make you look back fondly to a time when a group of schoolkids could outsmart the government.
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