The Cynical Optimist on Super 8


Synopsis: In the summer of ’79, a group of friends witness a catastrophic train crash while making a super 8 movie. Shortly after, disappearances and inexplicable events begin to take place in town, and the gang takes it upon themselves to investigate the creepy, fascinating phenomenon.

Directed by J.J. Abrams (”Star Trek”) from his original script, the Bad Robot / Amblin Entertainment Production is produced by Steven Spielberg, Abrams and Bryan Burk. The film stars Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee and Zach Mills.

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” — Rachel Carson

As adults, we are each mourning for our childhood more than we are anticipating the future. As we grow older, our hearts grow weary with the tedious reality of adulthood – desk jobs and electric bills, car insurance and taxes. The awe and wonder of childhood becomes something intangible, a collection of memories we’re unable to recreate – a yearning for the past – nostalgia.

J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg are two filmmakers with an uncanny ability to awaken the inner child, leaving us wide-eyed with big, goofy grins plastered across our faces. This sense of wonder is fully realized in Super 8, a film that plays like ”Goonies” meets ”E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”.

Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is a geek after my own heart. His room is covered in blueprints of space shuttles and Star Wars posters. Misunderstood by his father and still grieving the recent loss of his mother, Joe devotes his time to building models and doing monster makeup for his friend’s Super 8 movies.

Immediately, you care for Joe and root for him. He’s a kid who has already discovered his passions and obsessions – the kind of kid who grew up reading Famous Monsters magazine and religiously read from Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-Up Handbook. He’s the outcast, the kid who lost his mom and filled the gaping hole in his heart with his own little obsessions.

You get the sense that, while he has a father who loves him and a great group of friends, Joe is largely alone in life. The loss of his mother is too much to bear – and thank God for the train crash and subsequent alien conspiracy and government cover-up to take Joe’s mind away from his mother’s grizzly death.

The promise of young love in Elle Fanning’s Alice Dainard doesn’t hurt either. Alice is nice to Joe, and the two share a bond of being alone and misunderstood. Alice’s mother left when she was young, and her father is your standard alcoholic factory worker, overprotective of his young daughter for fear that she too will someday abandon him.

Most of the film is spent with Joe and his band of guerrilla movie-making friends as they discover the truth behind the train crash and the mysterious contents of its cargo – but the Cloverfield-esque monster subplot isn’t even that important. What makes ”Super 8” isn’t the surprises but rather the heartfelt, nostalgic story of Joe and Alice – which proves to be every bit as joyful and soaring as Spielberg at his best.

My favorite scene has Alice in Joe’s bedroom. The power is out (one of many bizarre phenomena that has occurred since the train crash) and the two are sharing a sweet moment when all of a sudden the power cuts back on and we see what Joe was doing prior to Alice’s arrival. Joe’s film projector buzzes on, a reel of memories shared by Joe and his mother plays out on screen. Alice watches, tears streaming from her eyes — and we are right there with her.

I sat beside my mother in the dark (who I’ve shared many cinematic memories with), both of us wiping tears away. I thought back to being a little boy and sharing the joy and wonderment of films like ”E.T”. and ”Star Wars” with her – that kind of movie magic that ignites the imagination of a child.

Bottom Line: The child actors, specifically Fanning and Courtney shine in this film – delivering heartfelt performances that make you genuinely care. ”Super 8” is a love letter to the kind of films I grew up on as a child of the ’80s – a powerful exercise in nostalgia and catharsis that provides summer popcorn fun with an emotionally-satisfying story.

Final Thoughts: While I thoroughly enjoyed J.J. Abrams’ ”Star Trek”, I would love to see him tackle ”Star Wars”. Let’s be honest, the reason Abrams’ remake of ”Trek” was so successful is because it felt more inspired by J.J’s love of ”Star Wars”- the bar filled with aliens, the monster in the ice cave, the medal ceremony after a farm boy becomes a hero in an epic space battle.

If we as a movie-going community are able to accept a complete reboot of the ”Spider-Man”franchise only years after the last film, why can’t J.J. remake ”Star Wars” – Lucas kind of ruined the franchise already with multiple special editions and the prequel trilogy — if anything I’d love to see Spielberg put a bug in George’s ear and get J.J. involved in some capacity. Here’s to hoping for a Prequel Trilogy reboot in 2020!