Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich
Running Time: 112 minutes, Rated PG-13
The inevitability of the changing seasons remains a beacon of hope. The dreariness of winter, although rife with artistic, award-winning fare, lacks the awe-inspiring exuberance of the summer blockbuster. Yet cynicism, amplified by jaded groans has been the chorus leading up to this summer. With a record-inducing twenty-seven sequels due to be released, it is isn’t a surprise that most moviegoers would be slumping in their seats craving a jolt of originality. Super 8 is that much-needed injection of energy.
Nostagia driven for sure, but a masterpiece in its own right, Abrams poured a refreshing amount of feeling into a coming-of-age story, masked as a monster movie, masked as a sci-fi epic. It doesn’t merely cross genres, it embellishes the extraordinary elements of them all. The mystery of what is lurking and stirring unrest in 1979 Lillan, Ohio allows the youngsters to experience life’s grand narrative with wide-eyed innocence.
The untimely death of Joe Lamb’s (Joel Courtney) mother allows the audience to root for his father (Kyle Chandler) to step up and be his son’s hero. It is a welcoming change of pace to see the Friday Night Lights star struggle to raise his son, when on his show he seems superhuman as a mentor. And the conspiracy theories revolving around the Air Force keeps our thoughts constantly churning as we willingly follow these charming kids through breathtaking heights and bone-chilling depths.
Joe Lamb is not a sheep amongst the herd. He builds model trains, and specializes in zombie makeup, but what makes him most special is the rosy-cheeked sincerity he shows in his adolescent love for Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning). She is two years older, and clearly he adores her from afar, and is even more taken with her when she displays acting chops in his pal Charlie’s (Riley Griffiths) Super 8mm movie about a small town plagued by zombies.
As our aspiring lad becomes dizzy for this undoubtedly charismatic dream girl he witnesses a colossal train wreck, caused by a high school science teacher in his pickup. Amidst the debris are strange, white cubes and a monstrous tear in one of the cars. Something has escaped. The gang flees the scene as U.S Air Force personnel arrive and they agree never to speak of what they saw.
Joe’s father, Deputy Lamb, ends up in charge of the investigation when “something” snatches the sheriff at a local gas station. Unusual disturbances begin to rile up the town’s citizens as power outages sporadically affect the neighborhoods, engines are ripped from cars, and a curious exodus of family dogs turns them all towards fear and blame. The curiosity is mild for Joe at first as Charlie’s movie takes precedent, but when Alice is taken, it becomes personal. He risks himself immediately to discover the identity of what the military seem to be hiding from them.
The delicate mixture of mystery, despair, hope and understanding make Super 8 both a wondrous spectacle and a moving, human drama. The cast of kids exceeds expectations as they blend humor and duress, creating a raw portrayal of what its like to grow up in a world small, but with huge ambition.
Director J.J Abrams clearly spilled his guts in this picture employing successful stylistic techniques. He perfected the art of redemptive, character-based storytelling through Lost, also experimenting with how to push those characters to dire scenarios through incomprehensible sci-fi terrors. He also employs the same cutting-edge documentary style action shots (with unaffected glares from natural light) that he did for Star Trek.
Joe, his father and even Alice’s alcoholic father all find salvation through the battle against this gargantuan threat. Cheesy, but true, is the realization that the real monsters of the movie lie within their grief and the limitations of their own insecurities. The sweetest of the uplifting moments is when the townspeople marvel at the sky and Joe is faced with the choice to let go or move on, and he remembers that its okay to grieve, but that it must not stop him from living. For most of us this is a conceivable feat in word, but an almost insurmountable feat in practice. The extraordinary young man’s choice made me clutch for my heart that had not stopped pounding since the first frames.
Whether at the amusement park or the multiplex, we seek thrills and escape as the air gets humid. We break from the constraints of obligation and wish to live each moment with a freedom like we did when the world was new. Abrams and this convincing cast made me believe in that summery zeal again. Yes, humankind is imperfect at best and fundamentally flawed at our worst, but our redeeming qualities are beautiful, and this film exemplifies that exceptional quality. Sure it combines the distorted shine of past greats; E.T, Jaws, and Stand By Me; but its still stellar, with its own individual stamp as it makes us yearn for the exploratory days of old and brightens the glow of our ever-expanding future. Never halting for introspection, but racing towards an unmistakable triumph of the spirit, Super 8 is the result of gifted artistry and a timeless purity of heart.