There should be no doubt in the mind of anyone who has seen any of J.J. Abrams’ works that he is on his way to becoming a great filmmaker. With Spielberg as a producer and Abrams writing-directing, Super 8 successfully presents a film that is as thrilling and mysterious as it is touching and sincere. While Spielberg only produced, the air surrounding every scene is truly reminiscent of his earliest features and makes for a beautiful and engaging piece of cinema.
Set in a small Ohio town, Super 8 takes place in the summer of 1979 – where a group of kids are attempting to film a zombie movie for a teen film festival. Led by the chubby and domineering Charles (Griffiths), the group includes: Preston (Mills), Martin (Basso), Cary (Lee), and most importantly Joe (Courtney), who happens to be the make-up and special effects expert. Joining the kids is the beautiful older schoolgirl, Alice (Fanning), who has agreed to co-star in their short film. While Charles comes from a large and loud family, Joe and Alice both share a similar home life. Due to his mother’s recent death in a factory accident, Joe lives with his neglecting father – and city deputy – Jackson Lamb (Chandler), while Alice lives with her drunken father Louis (Eldard).
Slipping out late at night to a nearby train station, the kids begin to film their latest scene – using a passing train for “production value” as Charles says. As the train speeds by, only Joe notices a pickup truck driving onto the tracks and driving straight into the train – causing one of the most intense collisions ever seen on film. Camera and equipment tossed aside, they run to escape the falling wreckage and explosions surrounding them. Once Joe retrieves a piece of the wreck for himself and they all reconvene, the kids run off to avoid getting into any trouble as a military team approaches.
Once the disappearances and incomprehensible events begin to set in – as well as an unwelcome military entry – the kids begin to suspect that it wasn’t an accident at all. Once they finally see the footage of the wreck however, they realize that the camera captured something breaking free from the cargo that they could have never imagined.
While the ensemble cast is truly marvelous, Courtney and Fanning shine the brightest. Although it is Courtney’s first feature film, there is a brutal honesty and innocence in his acting – as if he truly believes he’s in the midst of these events. Connecting with his character is simple, as his scenes are presented with such a tender approach. Fanning, already a stunning, young actress, provides the sincerity needed for her role and does a stellar job with every scene she’s in. The rest of the children offer plenty to the story – especially comic relief – and both Chandler and Eldard take their roles as fathers very seriously, adding to the tension of the film.
Super 8 masterfully mixes a story of childhood friendship and coming of age with science fiction, action, romance, and plenty of laughs along the way as well. It is impossible to watch this film, and not see the influence that Spielberg’s earliest works had on Abrams – most notably Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and even Jaws.
J.J Abrams has often mentioned that Super 8 was inspired by the way that he made Super-8 movies with friends during his youth, and it is impressive to see how beautifully he executed Super 8 – a film that was so close to his heart.