Super 8 is J.J. Abrams’ love letter to Spielberg’s films of the 80s. If you thought that the Abrams-penned Road Kill (Joy Ride) was a blatant homage to Duel, then you’ll be stunned at this film’s narrative cousins. Think of anything that Steven Spielberg had something to do with in that decade – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Gremlins, The Goonies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind – and you’ll have a fair understanding of what kind of film this is.
To ensure that our cravings for nostalgia were sated, Super 8 is set in 1979 and concerns a group of friends who one night witness a train crash close to their town. Before long people are going missing and property is being destroyed, and the kids find themselves up against forces much greater than themselves.
It was really hard to not think about all those films I watched when I was growing up in the 80s. Like those, Super 8 walks that fine line, being scary but definitely family-friendly viewing, and treasures character above all. Budding filmmaker Charles (Riley Griffiths) even talks about the importance of sympathising with your protagonists in film, and people might remember that the Abrams-produced Cloverfield surprised everyone a couple of years back by being filled with people you actually cared about. It’s the same here. Sure, there’s nothing particularly original about the character arcs on show, but they’re sincere and well written.
The shooting style is even reminiscent of Spielberg, particularly in the first 20 minutes. It’s only once the CGI takes over that you remember you’re in Abrams’ world. As skilled a filmmaker as he is, the most explosive scene in the film isn’t as impressive as it could have been – a lot of it is down to fantastic sound effects work. Oh, and the Abrams Lens Flair™ is back, though doesn’t distract quite so much as it did in his Star Trek reboot.
The performances are excellent, particularly those of the kids. Joel Courtney (Joe) and Elle Fanning (Alice) positively OWN this film, but the supporting turns from Griffiths, Gabriel Bosso, Ryan Lee and Zack Mills are just as good, creating one of the most likeable group of friends since the Harry Potter fold appeared.
Once you get over the warm feelings of nostalgia and the high-quality writing, you’ll find that the story itself is nothing to write home about. The science fiction plotting is extremely pedestrian and the CGI work is reminiscent of both Star Trek and Cloverfield. This isn’t a problem in the grand scheme of things, however. Super 8 is a skilfully made family science fiction film, and will hopefully usher in a bit of a revival of such films.Rating: