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June 10, 2011
Review - " Super 8 "  -  (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Super 8
directed by: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich,
Zach Mills, Amanda Michalka and Ryan Lee.

J.J. Abrams' Super 8 is a love letter to Steven Spielberg. It's a
not-so-subtle reminder of films such as E.T. and Close Encounters of
the Third Kind as well as the Spielberg-produced and storied The
Goonies. Another way of describing it would be to say it's an homage,
but if you were to tell me it was found in a 25-year-old time capsule
and restored using today's CGI and Abrams' now signature lens flares
that wouldn't surprise me in the least.

Marketed with all the same hocus-pocus as Paramount's Cloverfield,
Abrams and Co. have done their best to keep a lid on the film's plot, or
at least they have pretended to keep a lid on it. By watching the trailer
you already know this is a late-'70s set creature feature in which a
group of kids setting out to make a zombie movie end up capturing, on
film, a dramatic train crash as well as a glimpse at whatever monster it
was transporting. Blissfully unaware of what their super 8mm camera
has seen, as technology back then meant waiting up to five days for
your film to be developed, they carry on making their movie, using the
Air Force's investigation into the crash as a way to up their film's
production value.

Both written and directed by Abrams (Star Trek), the film moves along
at a brisk pace and succeeds in focusing on the innocence of the
children at its core. Seeing the incident at hand through the eyes of
the story's youths, all of which give spot-on performances, we're given
a wide-eyed, anything is possible view of the world, filled with optimism and just as much understanding as confusion.

These kids rebel against their parents wishes, yearn for creative outlets and experience youthful crushes and
disappointments. Beyond much else, this is where Super 8 specifically succeeds, as you join the core group of kids'
wonderment at what is going on and what is most important to them. Admittedly, this leaning on the kids' side of things does
have its drawbacks when Abrams feels the need to create additional emotional tension.

Joel Courtney plays the film's lead character, Joe Lamb, and at the outset we learn his mother has recently died due to an
on the job accident at the local steel mill. Both Joe and his father ("Friday Night Lights" star Kyle Chandler), a local police
officer, are suffering from their loss, but with a lack of back-story to their relationship (which I'm assuming wasn't too great)
the relationship between the two becomes a bit convoluted and hackneyed.

While helping his best friend, Charles
(Riley Griffiths), put together his zombie film,
Joe forms a crush on the film's new female lead,
Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), the daughter of
the man (Ron Eldard) Joe's father blames for
his wife's death. Upon hearing the news, Joe's
father forbids him from spending any time with
her. This scene is particularly cringe-worthy in
its execution as none of it rings true or feels

For the most part, Chandler's character does
some pretty strange things, none of which are
Chandler's fault as a performer, but more as
a result of a script that seems to lack
confidence in itself and feels a need to pile
on the drama. Abrams, instead, could have
taken a cue from Goonies, established the
familial problems and left them for the kids to
figure out along the way. As in Goonies, the parents can show up at the end for a dramatic "hug it out" moment, considering
there's no real reason for them to be at the center of the story.

However pushing that one misstep aside, Super 8 remains quite fun. You can feel Abrams' closeness to the
material as he obviously made short films of his own as a child, and the excitement and adventure of creating
those films is clearly evident. You'll also be able to connect with the feeling of young love and the jealousy
and frustration that comes with it.

For these reasons the creature angle that results in this story being told works as much as it doesn't. Abrams
plays with his creation and holds its identity close to the chest for most of the film's duration, a move that
grows more and more tiresome as time wears on. Giant CG creatures are no longer interesting as they have all
started to blend together and this one is no different. So when Abrams finally decides to give us a look into
the monster's soul, it's a scene that pretty much lands with a soft thud. He should have never had the reveal
at all, or done it much, much sooner.

Alternatively, the nearly six-minute train crash sequence at the beginning is loud, long and impressive. And
the acting on the part of all of the children is excellent.

I would like to point out Elle Fanning specifically. She showed some chops in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere last year, but here
she has something of a moment inside
a moment. As the kids are filming their
zombie movie she falls into character and
gives a performance that not only knocks
the young protagonists off their feet, but
tells the audience we have a true star on
our hands. Aside from some of the fun
character quirks of the rest of the cast,
Ryan Lee as the fireworks-obsessed Cary
was the character I found to be the most fun.

Overall, that last sentence is exactly what
Super 8 is and should be: fun. It's for this
reason some of the melodrama Abrams
wedged in there doesn't really work. Luckily,
that doesn't ruin the film as much as it's the
thorn in its paw. Super 8 remains a good
dose of entertainment, and while the
homage to Spielberg is a bit gimmicky, it's
the kind of film you melt right into, serving as
a satisfying two hour distraction.