"SUPER 8" (2011) Review
When I first saw the trailer for J.J. Abrams' new movie, "SUPER 8", I had a very difficult time generating any interest in the film. I would have easily ignored it if it were not for the fact that two or three of my favorite actors were featured in the film and that it was produced by Steven Spielberg.
My feelings toward J.J. Abrams' previous work are rather mixed. Yes, I realize that he was one of the creators of such television series as "ALIAS" and "LOST". But Abrams ended up distancing himself from both shows before they eventually suffered from a decline in writing quality. I enjoyed his work on "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III". But his "STAR TREK" reboot left me wondering about his talent as a writer and director. But after watching "SUPER 8" this summer, my faith in his talent has been fully restored.
Set in 1979, "SUPER 8" told the story of a group of young friends in their early teens filming their own Super 8 movie for a film festival for amateurs, when a train derails, releasing a dangerous presence into their town of Lillian, Ohio. The story began 13 year-old Joe Lamb dealing with the death of his mother in a factory accident. A neighbor named Louis Dainard appears at the wake, but Joe's father a deputy sheriff named Jackson Lamb, leads him away in handcuffs. Jackson blames Louis for his wife's death because he was absent during his shift and she had to fill in for him.
Four months later, Joe's friend, Charles Kaznyk, makes plans to film a zombie movie on Super 8 mm film for an amateur film festival. Along with Joe, he hires Dainard's daughter Alice to be part of the cast. After stealing her father's car, Alice takes Joe, Charles, Preston, Martin, and Cary to an old train depot; where the group plans to film a scene. During the shoot, Joe watches a pick-up truck drive onto the tracks and place itself in the path of an oncoming train, causing a massive derailment. In the aftermath of the accident, the kids find the wreck littered with strange white cubes. They approach the truck and discover Dr. Woodward, their biology teacher, behind the wheel of the truck. He instructs them to never talk about what they saw; otherwise they and their parents will be killed. Moments afterwards, the U.S. Air Force, led by one Colonel Nelec, arrives to secure the crash site. The kids flee the scene. Over the next couple of days, a number of strange phenomena occur throughout the Lillian neighborhood. A good number of the town's dogs run away. And kitchen appliances, car engines, and power lines vanish. Also, many people begin to disappear, among them the town's sheriff. Joe, Alice and their friends start investigating the strange phenomenons around Lillian, as they continue to shoot Charles' movie.
Not only has "SUPER 8" restored my faith in J.J. Abrams as a Hollywood talent, I believe it is one of the best movies I have seen this year. I really enjoyed. Abrams created a story that not featured mysterious happenings and an alien, but it also had plenty of human drama centering around Joe's relationships with his recently widowed father and Alice Dainard; along with a delightful story arc featuring the group of friends' attempt to film a movie. The interesting thing about "SUPER 8" is that all of the different story arcs in the movie - the personal dramas, the mystery surrounding the alien and Charles' zombie movie - managed to connect seamlessly to form a first-rate movie. But more importantly, "SUPER 8" brought me back to the days of my childhood of the late 1970s - a time when many of my generation were first becoming fans of filmmakers like Spielberg and George Lucas.
Not only does "SUPER 8" has a first-rate story written by Abrams, it also featured a superb cast. I was surprised to discover that "SUPER 8" featured 15 year-old Joel Courtney's film debut. Either Abrams has a talent for working with children, Courtney is a natural born film actor . . . or both. All I know is that his performance really knocked my socks off. I was especially impressed that he managed to hold his own with the likes of Kyle Chandler, who portrayed his father. Allie Fanning, who has more experience than Courtney, proved that acting talent obviously ran in her family (she is Dakota Fanning's younger sister). She was very impressive as Alice Dainard, the daughter of the very man whom Joel's dad hold responsible for his wife's death. There were two scenes that really impressed me - her confession to Joe about the circumstances that led to his mother's death; and her confrontation with her drunken father.
I have been fans of both Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard for a very long time. Chandler, who seemed to have a natural talent for portraying complex characters, displayed this talent again in his portrayal of Jackson Lamb, the deputy sheriff who finds himself as the leading law enforcement official following the disappearance of the sheriff. Chandler not only portrayed Jackson's growing concern over the town's strange incidents and disappearances with his usual skill, but also conveyed his character's difficulties in dealing with the death of his wife and growing estrangement from his son. Eldard's portrayal of Alice's father, Louis Dainard, proved to be equally complex. He did an excellent job of conveying the character's alcoholism, guilt over the death of Joe's mother and his growing estrangement from daughter Alice. He and Fanning were absolutely superb in the scene that featured the explosive confrontation between father and daughter.
"SUPER 8" also featured first-rate supporting performances from another favorite of mine, Glynn Thurman, who portrayed the kids' biology teacher and the man responsible for releasing the alien from the U.S. Air Force train; and Noah Emmerich, who portrayed the controlling U.S. Air Force colonel, Nelec. But the best performances came from the group of kids who portrayed Joe and Alice's friends and fellow film fans - Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso and Remy Thorne. They were absolutely terrific. And more importantly, their performances were not tainted with any "cutesy" quirks that have made some previous child actors rather unbearable. Nor did they act like adults in children's bodies - a phenomenon of which I have become increasingly intolerant.
The look of "SUPER 8" really brought back memories of past Spielberg films such as "CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND" and "E.T.". And considering that the movie is produced by Spielberg, I hardly find that surprising. A small part of me suspects that "SUPER 8" is a homage to those particular works. Many critics and moviegoers have compared it to Spielberg's films. The odd thing is that the storyline for "SUPER 8" reminded me more of the "STAR TREK VOYAGER" episode called (4.16) "Prey". Although not alike, the storyline for both the movie and the television episode struck me as surprisingly similar.
Whatever people might say about "SUPER 8", there is no doubt that I really enjoyed it. And once it leaves the movie theaters, I will have a hard time generating the patience to wait for its DVD release. Congratulations, Mr. Abrams. For once, you have really impressed me.