So dogs really are the smartest species on Earth…
A film written and directed by Nerd flagflyer J.J Abrams, ”Super 8” is a refreshing blockbuster in that it seems to have – get this – spent a lot more time developing the story than the effects. Oh, and it’s a film starring tweens that don’t sing and dance. Shocker, right!? (They do make movies, however).
These kids make Super 8mm movies about zombies, and after we learn about the main character, Joe (Joel Courtney) and his Mom’s tragic death, the film kicks off with him and his rag tag group of friends as they go about their movie making business. It is on one of these late night shoots that they witness a horrific train crash, the first appearance of special effects for the movie, and one that will have you riveted to your seat. This train crash releases something that drives the storyline forward, but it is the events around this event that make the heart of the film.
It is 1979 in Ohio, and there is enough smoking and references to ‘The Soviets’ to make an episode of ”Mad Men” proud. The action builds slowly in a very Spielberg fashion, and while this might have been a drag, the talent of the young actors left largely to carry the film are a delight to watch, and their easy chemistry and natural banter has not been seen since River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell and Corey Feldman in ”Stand By Me”. Once the action set in I almost missed the kids playing about with their camera, props and make-up, capitalising on the train crash and subsequent army invasion to increase their film’s ‘production value’. 16 and 17 years old are entering the same Super 8mm film competition you see, so they have to bring their A game. A scene in which the tweens use the situation of an army clearing out a house for evidence as a backdrop to play out their zombie script is inspired.
The dogs in the town of course know nothing good will come of this turn of events, however, and are the first to leave en masse. Like the dogs that can detect terminators disguised as humans, once again, characters really should take note of their spot on instincts. Dogs know when something’s up…I think this should have been the movie’s tagline.
Kyle Chandler as Joe’s father and town Deputy delivers only as he can the affecting performance of a man disconnected from his child, grieving his wife, and trying to save a town from monsters all at the same time. This is a man you want in charge. Coach Taylor would be proud. But all the performances are great, the stoner film developing guy, the pyromaniac friend, and Elle Fanning as the lone female in the group of friends and object of intrigue, Alice, is a revelation. She brings a layer of acting that will be replayed in drama classes around the world.
Made for a fairly low budget of (by Hollywood standards) $45 million, “Super 8″ is a film that will likely appeal to everyone…. but ask to me to tell you who the target market is and I can’t tell you. Those who grew up in the 70s? Tweens themselves? Science fiction fans? Essentially it doesn’t matter. Like ”Stand By Me” and ”E.T” (of which many comparisons will be made) this movie can be enjoyed by everyone.
The final showdown doesn’t have the emotional impact it was probably aiming for, but a minor weakness in an otherwise beautifully shot, well acted, funny and thrilling film.
An interesting side note – the Super 8mm film the tweens produce in the movie was created entirely by the young actors themselves, providing an innocence to their script’s dialogue that works exceptionally well. Be sure to stick around for the end credits.