Title: Super 8

Director: J.J. Abrams

Starring: Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills, Noah Emmerich

Within the first 10 minutes, one will get the impression that ”Super 8” could be something very special. Think about it; you have Steven Spielberg producing in a genre he has mastered; and complimenting his vision, is J.J. Abrams’ crafty directing style in a genre he adores. Sounds like an exciting 112 minutes right?

Not entirely. Though Abrams is knowledgeable behind the lens, the heralded television writer (Lost, Fringe) still hasn’t mastered the art of script writing. That isn’t to say the script executed here is flawed or leaves one confused. But let’s face it, his cinematic scripts for ‘Mission: Impossible III’ and ‘Joy Ride’ were simply uneventful at times. And ‘Super 8’ experiences a zombie-like pace at certain turns. (Probably showing my age with that statement).

Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and group of his pre-teen classmates are shooting a movie for a local film fest in 1979 Ohio. The forming of this unique grouping of friends is of a nature when all their personalities just naturally gravitate toward each other (Veets-like). Joe’s best friend, Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the director and is stoked that he convinced a local girl a few grades above the boys in Alice (Elle Fanning) to be a part of the short (which is runs during the credits and its hilarious).

Prior to shooting the film, tragedy struck Joe and his Deputy father (Kyle Chandler) due to a freak accident at the local manufacturing plant where Joe’s mother worked. The way the fatal accident went down, just so happens to involve Alice’s drunken father (Ron Eldard). Whether or not Joe grasps the entire situation is unknown, but he definitely develops a crush on Alice once the filming begins. That same night, the group all sneak out to film at closed train stop just outside of town. During the shoot a train is forcefully derailed right where the boy’s production is taking place and it nearly wipes them all out. As they see military rush in immediately following the horrific crash, they all swear not to speak a word of what they saw. However, their silence is tested when strange occurrences begin to plague their small town and people, animals and appliances start disappearing.

The military contingent – led by Nelec (Noah Emmerich) – that continue to ignore Deputy Lamb, overrun the town and are clearly on the hunt for something. While the town goes into a panic, Joe and the gang realize that they picked up more than just their movie on their camera. Hello alien monster!

J.J. Abrams created a throwback piece. More specifically, paying homage to Spielberg’s work from thirty years ago, while indulging what he cut his teeth on. And this conclusion doesn’t just apply to the story, for all the encompassing technical elements and/or movie mechanics are also in nostalgia mode. If one has ever seen any type of Sci-Fi film that takes place in a small town, the pattern will be quite familiar: Something happens in front of innocent eyes; military shows up and they’re all secretive while being hard-asses; eventually the innocent eyes (kids) are the ones who shed light on the subject and possibly figure out how to save the day. And this is all fine if a few tweaks to the original blue-print can be instituted, which in this case the behavior of the creature is for example. Like Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ though, Abrams is slowly revealing the creature to the audience. Fortunate thing is – and unlike a strip club – the audience will get to enjoy the goods teased on the screen plenty of times.

It’s easy to surmise that Spielberg was able to participate in a movie he wanted to enact years ago now that he has more updated toys (special effects) to play with. And play him and Abrams do. When the piece gets loud and destructive, it is nothing short of jaw-dropping thrills. Train cars propelled all over the place; a “monster” comes out of nowhere to destroy small-town structures; and the footage of how the young ones escape, while the military is unloading mass amounts of ammo, is a pleasure to watch. Sure you must suspend disbelief – and some of the stunts aren’t sold as well as seen in genre predecessors. But the tone still keeps that adventure angle present, even though it’s not as engrossing as it could have been.

There’s going to be a lot of comparisons to other films stemming from the main characters being a group of kids with their own unique, fun-loving personas. The obvious one, that begins with a G and rhymes with Loonies, will pop up a lot. Difference here is that the kids engage in more of an inter-personal drama as ushered in through subplots revolving around relationships outside of the Sci-Fi theme. That said, the dialogue is not as strong in this flick, but they did a decent job in capturing how kid’s back then would have reacted to this particular situation, along with their daily agendas.

Overall, this transitions from being an ‘E.T.’ product gone wild, to playing it by the book written by Spielberg and his mentors years ago. At times, you can possibly categorize this as an evil ‘E.T.’ It’s not as light-hearted as the classic, yet it manages to keep a playful tone that all audiences can enjoy. I can see ‘Super 8’ being in everyone’s DVD collection and being something that you’ll pop in on a rainy weekend.

Technical: A

Story: C+

Acting: B

Overall: B

Review by Joe Belcastro

Super 8

By Joe Belcastro

Joe Belcastro is an established movie critic in Tampa, Florida. As a member of the Florida Film Critics Circle, most of his time is spent reviewing upcoming movies. He also covers news pertaining to the film industry, on both a local and national level as well as conducting interviews. To contact Joe Belcastro regarding a story or with general questions about his services, please e-mail him and/or follow him on Twiiter @TheWritingDemon.

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