Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Love Letter to Early Spielberg

Three Stars

I loved seeing the Amblin logo on the screen again. Hello, old friend. ‘Super 8’ is J.J. Abrams’s homage to Steven Spielberg, and I came prepared to this film. I came prepared to feel twelve again. The story opens on our twelve year old hero, Joe Lamb (Joel Countney). He is sitting on a swing set with his head down. It’s his mother’s funeral. His father Deputy Schiff Jack Lam (Kyle Chandler) is upset as well. Cute kid with a great loss. We are already starting to feel the Spielberg effect here. A couple months pass by, and he and his friends are hanging out, as they work on a film. It’s the summer or 1979. Joe and his friends Charles (Riley Griffiths), Cary (Ryan Lamb), Martin (Gabriel Basso), Preston (Scott Mills) and Alice (Elle Fanning) are all spending their time making a cheap horror flick on super 8 film they bought from the local store. They are filming a scene at the local train station. All the boys are enchanted by Alice, as they cast her to play the girl in their film. They start to film the scene, but before they know it, a car goes on the tracks and the train crashes into it. Huge explosion and they get more excitement than they bargained for. The scene is a very good action sequence, and is the type of thing J.J. Abrams does well. I am reminded of his last film, ‘Star Trek’, which also had excellent action sequences.

Weird things start to happen in their small town like all the dogs disappearing and people disappearing. The military sets up camp. Weird things that look like Rubik Cubes start to appear. I was reminded of Stephen King’s ‘Stand by Me’, as these young kids band together to confront something weird and evil happening in their community. As all this is happening, though, their main focus remains making their little film with their camera. I felt like I was watching a film from the late eighties to early nineties. The kids are all in a scary situation, and they are quicker than the adults to figure out what is going on.

The film can be kind of obvious at times. It makes up for that with a charming group of kids. Movies like this make up for their short comings with innocence and relationships including kids. That’s what made E.T. and other movies of that time period work. The kids have their quirks. Charles is the young director, who is strict about the direction of his film, and despite everything happening, is determined to finish it. Things get crazier and crazier. The kids run through the town on fire, and they get to the school where they discover more film with evidence of the truth the evil government had been hiding.

One of the things I love about this film is the love letter it is to Spielberg and film in general. Film is very important to the plot, from the kids making a film of their own to the scene where Joe and Alice watch the film of Joe’s mother on the wall. Film is important, apparently, to J.J. Abrams, and that’s really the joy of ‘Super 8’. The film can feel a little rushed at times, and the ending is directly pulled from Spielberg’s playbook. Though, I suggest you take your kids and yourself to this film, because this film has the right spirit. I’m suggesting this film mostly for its spirit. You don’t get films like this anymore. It’s a story of kids facing great danger, but going on a quest and trying to save their friend from a monster. Perhaps this film will inspire a kid to pick up a camera and make a Super 8 film of their own. Ok, maybe people don’t use super eight film anymore, but people don't make films like 'Super 8' anymore, and it's perhaps trying to recapture some of that magic.

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