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Looking Back at "Super 8"

By admin Published: November 21, 2011

The J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg effort arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday. If you are considering buying or renting it, here is my review of the film when it landed in theaters. I gave it three stars.

The review: Super 8 is a monster movie that is least interesting when it actually has to deal with the monster. It is at its best as a heartfelt look at families and getting over grief and loss — and when it is propelling the audience along with a series of thrills leading to the climax.

Written and directed by J.J. Abrams (Lost, 2009's Star Trek), the movie owes an acknowledged debt to the sci-fi work of Steven Spielberg, who is a producer on Super 8. But it also has a deep love for thrillers, older monster movies and the joy a bunch of kids can find in making their own movie with far more imagination than budget to help. It's a feeling that the YouTube generation should immediately recognize.

Set in a small, fictional Ohio town in 1979, the movie begins as young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) has just lost his mother in a steel-plant accident.

It leaves him more than a little lost, since his deputy-sheriff father (Kyle Chandler) has not been close to him. But some of his time is filled with his friends, particularly would-be filmmaker Charles (Riley Griffiths), who wants to make a zombie movie for submission to the Cleveland International Super 8 Film Festival. While the movie makers are all boys (among them Lakewood native Zach Mills), they need a female for one part — and persuade Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) to help. This is a Romeo-and-Juliet-level complication for Joe, since his father blames Alice's father (Ron Eldard) for the death of Joe's mother.

But things get much more complicated when the movie gang attempts a night shoot at a railroad station, only to witness a huge train crash. It's a military train, to boot, and something gets out of the wreckage.

Trouble, as you might imagine, ensues and builds to ever more devastating heights. Considerable carnage accompanies it, and an old conspiracy is uncovered — and the young people are in more or less constant peril.

I know, it sounds as if you have seen it before. And I could spend a lot of space here just listing all the other movies that Super 8 invokes. But that did not matter much in the act of watching. Abrams' script tries and mostly succeeds to flesh out its characters, and to treat them with affection. Even some obvious notes have their little twists — like having a stoner character played by David Gallagher, better known from years as Simon Camden on family drama 7th Heaven. The effects are impressive, the cast good (Fanning especially so) and the Spielbergian, sentimental side of things still got to me.

The one place the movie fades is when it can no longer put off both revealing the monster in the movie — after offering just glimpses at first — and doing something about it. That's territory that is far too well traveled; Super 8 cannot help but seem more ordinary then — although it rebounds a bit as the credits roll.

Still, on balance, Super 8 works both as summer, escapist fare and as a family story — OK, a family story with bloodshed and destruction.

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