Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, Super 8 is the story of a group of kids in the late 1970s trying to make a movie when they encounter a train accident that involves something a strange being prompting the military to be involved. The film is a sci-fi film of sorts that recalls some of the family adventure films that Steven Spielberg made during the 1980s as Abrams pays homage to those movies. Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Riley Griffiths, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee, Ron Eldard, Glynn Turman, and Noah Emmerich. Super 8 is an incredible and imaginative film from J.J. Abrams.
In a small Ohio town, a group of kids led by Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths) is making a Super 8mm zombie movie for an upcoming film festival. Helping Charles is his best friend Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) in makeup and other things along with their friends in Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso), and Cary (Ryan Lee). Wanting to up the ante of the production, Charles successfully asks his classmate Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) to be in the film as the love interest where they shoot a scene at a train station. There, the kids encounter a horrific train accident where a truck crashed into the train as they wonder what is going on.
After the incident that is talked about all over town, some mysterious disappearances happen as Joe’s father Deputy Jack Lamb (Kyle Chandler) is handling the case as he tries to get answers from Air Force Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich). Joe, Charles, Alice, and the rest of the gang continue to create their movie as they begin to wonder what is really going on as the Air Force starts to get involved. With Jack pondering about what the Air Force is doing, more mysterious disappearances happen as Alice’s father Louis (Ron Eldard) witnesses Alice being captured by a mysterious creature. When Joe learns about what happened to Alice, he and his friends decide to find her where they discover what the mysterious creature is doing and why the Air Force is after it.
The film is essentially the story about a group of kids who encounter a train accident where they discover some mysterious things happening as people disappear and the Air Force gets involved. While these kids are simply trying to make a low-budget Super 8mm zombie movie, they have to deal with all of these things happening while one of them becomes attracted to the girl in the group. It’s an adventure story told largely from the perspective of kids that recalls a lot of the children-adventure movies that Steven Spielberg had produced like The Goonies where it’s about a group of kids driving the story.
J.J. Abrams’ screenplay does have this unique narrative that revolves around these kids growing up in the late 1970s where all they want to do is make a zombie movie. Even as they would eventually find footage of the accident they encounter that turns the movie into a suspense-thriller involving all sorts of things. There’s also a subplot in the narrative that involves Joe and his father as they’re both mourning as the loss of Joe’s mother in an accident that Alice’s father Louis had unknowingly been involved in. This would eventually cause tension between father and son once Joe becomes friends with Alice as it would also bring tension between he and Charles. Still, they would all band together to eventually uncover the mystery of this creature and why it’s here as they also to deal with the Air Force and its brutish colonel.
Abrams’ direction is definitely stylish from the way he recreates a small town set in 1979 to the array of special effects-driven action sequences that appears in the film. Still, Abrams is focused on the story of these kids where he creates some amazing compositions in the way he frames his young actors as well as the idea of what it’s like to make a movie. With some amazing wide shots of the locations, that are shot in West Virginia, Abrams truly understands the idea of life in a small town while keeping the shots simple and to the point. Abrams also utilizes his approach to lens flares for many of the film’s nighttime scenes where it adds to some of the film’s sci-fi visual ideas. Notably in the film’s climatic moments where Joe and his friends would make their discovery. Overall, Abrams crafts a very solid and thoroughly engaging film that is a joy to watch.
Cinematographer Larry Fong does excellent work with the film‘s stylish photography with some wonderfully naturalistic shots of the locations for its exteriors along with the use of grainy Super 8mm film for the movie the kids are making. Editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey do nice work with the editing by playing up the energy of the action sequences while utilizing more methodical cuts for the film‘s dramatic moments. Production designer Martin Whist, along with art director David Scott and set decorators Fainche MacCarthy and Dave Kann, does fantastic work with the look of the small town as well as some of the locations including the train debris in the film.
Costume designer Ha Nguyen does terrific work with the costumes by playing up the look of the late 1970s in the clothes that the kids wear. Visual effects supervisors Russell Earl, Kim Liberi, and Dennis Muren do brilliant work with the visual effects that are created such as the climatic creature and the train crash sequence. Sound designer Ben Burtt and co-sound editor Matthew Wood do superb work with the sound to create amazing sound textures for some of the film‘s action sequences along with more sparse mixes in the intimate moments. The film’s score by Michael Giacchino is amazing for its orchestral-driven pieces ranging from suspenseful driven pieces to a lush, dramatic theme to play the sense of loss that Joe is dealing with. Music supervisor George Drakoulias creates a fun soundtrack that features a lot of music of the late 70s from acts like Blondie, Chic, the Knack, Electric Light Orchestra, the Cars, and the Commodores to play out that period.
The casting by April Webster and Alyssa Weisberg is phenomenal for the ensemble that is created as it features appearances from Joel McKinnon Miller and Jessica Tuck as Charles’ parents, Amanda Michalka as Charles’ older sister Jen, David Gallagher as photo shop clerk Donny, and Glynn Turman as the mysterious Dr. Woodward. Noah Emmerich is very good as the secretive yet villainous Colonel Nelec who is trying to hide things and cause problems for the town. Ron Eldard is terrific as the troubled Louis Dainard who feels guilty over what happened to Joe’s mother as he also deals with Alice’s friendship with Joe. Kyle Chandler is wonderful as Joe’s father Jack who tries to deal with his son’s activities while trying to figure out what Colonel Nelec and the Air Force are doing.
Zach Mills is funny as helpful Preston while Gabriel Basso is superb as often scared Martin who always throws up in certain parts of the film. Ryan Lee is great as the fireworks-loving Cary who likes to blow things up and always does something really silly. Riley Griffiths is excellent as the creative Charles who always says some profane things while trying to rally everyone to make his movie. Joel Courtney is brilliant as Joe who tries to deal with all of the chaos that is happening around him while being the one to lead the gang into discovering what is going around them. Finally, there’s Elle Fanning in a marvelous performance as Alice Dainard as she displays a great sense of energy and depth into a young girl who joins the boys in an adventure as she definitely delivers in a truly mesmerizing performance.
Super 8 is a fun and thrilling sci-fi adventure film from J.J. Abrams. Thanks to a very talented ensemble cast that is led by its young actors in Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning. It’s a film that is full of exciting and funny moments that has all of the hallmarks of a typical summer blockbuster but with substance and characters to care for. In the end, Super 8 is a remarkable film from J.J. Abrams.
J.J. Abrams Films: (Mission: Impossible 3) - (Star Trek (2009 film)) - (Star Trek 2)
© thevoid99 2012
Good review Stephen. This was one of my favorites from last year just because I could tell that Abrams loved those Spielberg flicks as much as me and it just made me the whole experience a lot more magical and entertaining. Sadly, the rest of that Summer season didn't necessarily match up to this film but it was alright.
Well, last year's summer movies were still better than this year's. There hasn't been a lot of good movies this year.
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