‘Super 8’, a homage to Spielberg classics

2011-08-01 00:00

IT’S been some time since an original story (not a sequel, spin-off or franchise) came to a cinema near us.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, that film has come from one J.J. Abrams, the architect of the TV series Lost and Alias, and the director of Mission: Impossible III.

It was about five years ago that Paramount Pictures chairperson Brad Grey dubbed J.J. Abrams “the next Steven Spielberg”.

Now, Super 8 writer/director Abrams has Spielberg as the producer in his latest project.

Super 8 plays out as a fond homage to the classics of yesteryear, such as Spielberg’s Close Encounter and E.T., but there are also nods to Jaws, Jurassic Park and his more recent War of the Worlds.

It should be said, however, there are tribute films and then there are tribute films. In the one, you say “Oh, that’s nice” and in the other you sit up and take notice. Super 8 is the latter kind.

The story takes place in 1979 (when Spielberg was fast becoming a household name and Abrams was just into high school). It’s the story of young aspiring film makers and their zombie movie, a project which requires them to sneak out of their houses at midnight and assemble next to a nearby train station. There, they can make their film without the interference of adults who just don’t get it. There’s Joe (Joel Courtney), the sensitive makeup artist and model-builder, Alice (Elle Fanning), the leading lady from a broken home, Charles (Riley Griffiths), a bossy, rotund writer/director, and Cary (Ryan Lee), the heavily dental-braced fireworks guru.

While there, they witness a train derailment (note: the best one filmed to date) and the emergence of a mysterious, predatory menace.

Pretty soon the local sheriff disappears, along with dogs and microwaves, and the U.S. military descend on the small town to “take care” of everything … all of which is very dubious.

There are a few immediate areas where Abrams has obviously learned from Spielberg, such as when it comes to revealing the monster, less is more (remember Jaws?).

It’s also very clear that for Abrams, storytelling is paramount — even over the story itself. On this note, there are parts of the film where it feels a bit too carefully manufactured, but overall Abrams remembers the fundamental ground rule — make the audience interested in the characters.

Abrams brings out some excellent performances from the young, fresh cast, along with the two fathers — Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard — to create a wonderful core in the story.

The film ticks along nicely, never lulling for too long on any particular scene, and there are some wonderful moments throughout.

For anyone who grew up watching those “good old days” movies of yesteryear, this is a real treat offered up by Abrams, a film maker who is undoubtedly the closest there’s been to “the next Spielberg”.


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