Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Video review coming soon, when I've got the video editing machine working.

The new science-fiction adventure from J.J. Abrams, director of the recent Star Trek reboot and creator of Lost, Super 8 is an homage to the 1970s and 80s films of Steven Spielberg – ET, Jaws, Close Encounters, that kind of thing – and with Mr Spielberg himself producing, many of his tropes are notable – the 70s small town US setting, the child characters, the monster, the lovably cheesy emotional undertone.

Super 8 follows a group of kids who are producing an amateur zombie movie on Super 8 film (hence the title) when a train crashes quite dramatically rather close to them. After that, a series of mysterious incidents plague the town – power cuts, missing sheriffs, cars bouncing, dogs running away, the usual. Young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), still coping with the grief from his mother’s death in an unfortunate industrial accident, struggles to manage his loyalties between his friends, love interest Alice (Elle Fanning) and his father Jackson (Kyle Chandler), a police deputy determined to get to the heart of the curious goings-on. It’s quite clear to the viewer that the sinister Air Force types hanging around have been transporting some kind of alien and are trying to cover up their mess and there isn’t really much depth to the predictably evil Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich), but this element of the plot adds an extra layer of threat, enigma and, importantly, cheese.

This aside, Abrams really shows off his storytelling skill. The simple but enthralling storyline has emotional and dark undertones in its exploration of Joe’s grief for his mother. Unlike many contemporary sci-fi rubbish, Super 8 doesn’t overdo the action or CGI but makes the exciting adventure part of a strong and meaningful character drama. With intelligently framed shots, Super 8 is visually impressive in a way that reminds one of the Spielberg films it is inspired by without resorting to the kind of postmodern referencing that could draw the viewer away from the drama.

Another typical Spielbergian element that Super 8 picks up on is that it has a good sense of humour; the interaction between the young characters, including overweight Charles (Riley Griffiths) and explosives-obsessed Cary (Ryan Lee) leads to several funny and memorable lines – “Excuse me, can I have another order of fries? Because my friend here is fat.” This is helped by a young cast who portray their roles with energy, emotion and realism. Praise must especially be given to Courtney and Fanning, who is a lot less annoying than her sister was in War of the Worlds. The character of Joe’s father is also well developed, although I did keep wishing he was played by Dominic West – not only because West is a much better actor than Chandler but also because the character reminded me of McNulty. But that’s probably just me, linking everything I see to The Wire. Chandler’s probably not bad if you’re unaffected by Wire-itis.

Overall, Super 8 is no classic, but a solid Spielbergian homage with no major flaws to rant about. It’s one of the most accomplished and all-round entertaining films of the summer.


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