mon 23/09/2019

Super 8 | reviews, news & interviews

Super 8

Super 8

Mystery, magic, movies and vintage pop songs in JJ Abrams's Spielbergian adventure

Watching the skies: (left to right) Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Ron Eldard can't believe their eyes

Having masterminded the existential fantasy of Lost, reinvented Star Trek and served up the monster-on-the-loose rampage of Cloverfield, JJ Abrams now comes trampling all over Steven Spielberg's favourite turf of a homely, nostalgic America. He can feel Spielberg's benign hand resting on his shoulder though, since the Big 'Berg co-produced and brought aboard several of his favourite sound and visual effects specialists.

Plot-wise, it's the summer of 1979 - we know this from an introductory blast of ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down" - and we're in the small town of Killian, Ohio, where many of the locals work in the steel mill. One of them was Joe Lamb's mother, recently killed in a horrific workplace accident. Joe's father, local police deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), is struggling to cope with his loss while raising his pre-teenage son. Jackson thinks Joe (Joel Courtney) would benefit from being sent away to a baseball camp, but the kid is finding his own solace in helping to make a Super 8 zombie movie with his school friends, led by the bossy and obsessive Charles (Riley Griffiths).

The movie-within-a-movie motif plugs directly into Abrams's own childhood memories, since the 13-year-old JJ was similarly obsessed with creating his own bedroom monster films, and this connection helps give Super 8 its big heart, its sense of wonder and its emotional richness. In an extra karmic twist, the young Abrams, having displayed precocity as a Super 8 auteur, was once hired by Spielberg to restore his own 8mm childhood films. The way Joe is wrapped up in his make-up and design work on the homemade flick makes it obvious that the movie project means more to him than a mere hobby, and as the action unfolds the kids' film-making (pictured below) becomes an intense laboratory of relationships, challenges and revelations which will remain imprinted on them forever.

kids_movie_TRIMTheir project is still just a private obsession when the crew sneak out one evening to shoot a scene by the local railway station. They get a ride with Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), their female star who has illicitly borrowed her dad's car. As they're preparing to roll film, director Charles lights up at the sound of a real-live train thundering up the tracks towards them ("Production value!" he yelps), though the dialogue is all but obliterated by the roar and clatter of rolling stock. Then the story takes a giant leap as the train barrels into a truck driving up the railway tracks, and the kids scatter amid a terrifying barrage of explosions, a bomb-burst of hurtling debris and the spectacle of huge container trucks crashing down out of the air around them (JJ Abrams on set, pictured below).

Abrams_TRIMIn the ensuing days, seemingly paranormal events fill the townsfolk of Killian with trepidation. Appliances fly through the air and disappear, electrical cabling is stripped from its pylons, and cars at the local dealership have been denuded of their engines. Local pets vanish, then turn up miles away. At the gas station, as the goofy attendant listens to Blondie's "Heart of Glass" on his new-fangled cassette Walkman, the Sheriff seemingly evaporates from the forecourt. Then, as if in a Fifties alien-invasion shocker, Killian is taken over by hatchet-faced troopers from the US Air Force, riding around town taking Geiger counter readings under the threatening command of Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich).

Fanning__Joe_TRIMEchoes of Spielberg's E.T. and Close Encounters, with their sense of the everyday being warped by the miraculous, aren't far from the surface (Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney study unidentified object, pictured right). Meanwhile the Steel Belt setting affords additional echoes of Springsteen-esque blue collar life as Abrams tints in the personal problems and concerns of his fictional families (Super 8 was shot in Weirton, West Virginia, the same town Michael Cimino used for The Deer Hunter). It does eventually show its hand as a space-monster movie, but Abrams never loses his grip on the entwined stories of his hugely likeable young cast, whose wit and resilience make them the antidote to studio-brat tweeness.

Doubtless we'll see more of all of them, with Elle Fanning (already a veteran of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Somewhere) delivering a performance of exceptional soulfulness as Alice. Like Joe, she's trying to cope with a difficult home life with an angry, unhappy father (Ron Eldard), and their growing empathy is touchingly drawn. The scene where she has to act the part of a worried wife in the children's zombie movie, and moves her fellow actors to tears, is a miniature marvel. And on top of all that, whether you like it or not, you'll be singing The Knack's "My Sharona" all the way home.

Watch the trailer for Super 8

Comments

Interesting analysis Adam. You left out a small detail. Super-8 is a rewrite of Stephen King's novel 'From a Buick 8' that IMDB still lists as 'coming out in 2011'.. Tada! Its out. Similarities: young kid is the protagonist, father a cop, father dies in horrific accident (in movie its mother), strange unexplained random events, mysterious disappearance at gas station, small town setting, same time frame, alien forces at work, the number 8 in the title. Just substitute the politically incorrect cops from King's book with the kids from King's 'IT' along with other parts from IT and presto! You have Super 8!

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