Directed by J. J. Abrams
Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler
During the summer of 1979, a group of friends in a small Ohio town witness a terrible accident when a train is derailed by a truck. When local people (and dogs) go missing and mysterious incidents are reported all over town, they try to solve the mystery using footage of the crash captured on their Super 8 camera. Bit by bit they are pulled irresistibly into a mysterious government conspiracy to cover up the source of a sinister series of events that has turned their peaceful town upside down and will take them on an adventure that will test their friendship in ways they could never have expected.
Following closely in the footsteps of Spielberg’s early work and displaying an enthusiastic nostalgia for 70s era filmmaking, J.J. Abrams latest sci-fi mystery features a group of kids on the verge of adolescence, feeling the growing pains of life in the face of death, divorce, aliens and puberty.
One of the central themes of Super 8, directed by Abrams and produced by Spielberg, is the importance of the family in society and in particular the effect on kids of growing up without one of their parents. Super 8 is heavily influenced by its popular 80s forerunners Stand by Me and The Goonies. Like E.T. before it, this is a coming of age tale with an extra-terrestrial twist.
The concept for Spielberg’s 1985 modern epic E.T. was inspired by his struggle to cope with his own parents’ divorce. The film used the relationship between a young boy and the extraterrestrial he befriends to examine the modern family dynamic and emphasizes the value of a positive male role model during a child’s formative years.
Similarly, in Super 8 the central character Joe is dealing with his mother’s tragic death. He shares his pain with his friend Alice who is also being raised by her father: “She used to look at me… this way, like really look… and I just knew I was there… that I existed.” Joe has a difficult relationship with his father and finds solace in making Super 8 films with his friends.
Super 8 is a warm and sincere homage to an era of filmmaking which had Spielberg at the height of his powers with iconic sci-fi favourites E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. These films not only put a marker down for aspiring filmmakers and fans of the genre but they are heartfelt and moving stories about family ties and the responsibilities that go with them.
Super 8 takes a fresh look at these responsibilities and, through the eyes of Joe and his friends, attempts to convey something of the uncertainty of childhood and the excitement of the unknown that goes with it. The film speaks to the child in all of us with colourful and well-defined characters, a confident and natural young cast and some imaginative action sequences.
Unfortunately the film doesn’t deliver on the promises of its PR and fails to capitalize on the curiosity generated by the clever story-telling in first half of the film with a final revelation that is decidedly underwhelming and an ending that leaves you nostalgic for a time when films just ended better.
Super 8 is a refreshing change of pace during an increasingly monotonous blockbuster season but the film’s warm nostalgia for the past becomes a little sickly-sweet towards the end and doesn’t to bring anything original to a classic formula. It ultimately serves as a sad reminder that they just don’t make sci-fi the way they used to. Or rather J.J. Abrams doesn’t make sci-fi the way Steven Spielberg used to.
With the warmth and heart of Stand by Me, the playful adventure of The Goonies and the sense of wonder of E.T, Super 8 will strike a chord with the toughest of cynics. Even if it doesn’t warrant a second viewing, it’ll have you diving straight into your 80s DVD collection to start reliving the wonder years.
Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity .