Jeffrey Jacob 'J. J' Abrams has been very busy of late; he successfully rebooted the Star Trek saga and removed the nerd stereotype associated with Star Trek, creating a film that entertained many audience members. He was the co-creator of Lost which, apparently, is one of the greatest TV programs of the early 21st century (I have not seen it; I don't even know what it is about). So he has been quite a busy man directing mainstream productions such as Mission Impossible 3 and Star Trek. His latest release is a love letter to Steven Spielberg entitled Super 8.
Joe Lamb is a fourteen year old teenager who has lost his mother in a tragic factory accident. While sitting outside he watches Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard) arrive at the house to attend the wake. He is swiftly arrested by Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) and taken to the police station. Four months later Joe and his four friends, with Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) also tagging along after Charles (Riley Griffiths) asked Alice to play a part in their zombie film, the boys (and one girl) witness a huge train crash, catching it on film, they remarkably emerge unscathed but strange happens are afoot in Lillian.
It's hard to resist the wistful, nostalgic and elegant charms that Super 8 has. Super 8 is a love letter to the Steven Spielberg Science Fiction films of the 1970s and early 80s, namely E.T The Extra Terrestrial and Close Encounters with the Third Kind. This love letter is so lovingly created that the passion Abrams has for this era of cinema is obvious. So much of Super 8 is clearly very closely associated with the superior works of Spielberg; we get the small, suburban houses with their well tended gardens, the picturesque setting and the ominous entrance of the army. This throwback to the 1970s results in Super 8 looking absolutely gorgeous and possibly presents a sense of longing among those who grew up with the likes of E.T and Close Encounters. Yet there is so much Spielberg that it feels that there is a lack of Abrams, it could quite easily be mistaken as a Spielberg film, and the only Abrams touch is the lenses flair which gives off an impression that Abrams is only using such a gimmick to remind viewers that this is his film.
What gives Super 8 its heart and soul are the exceptional performances by the young teenage cast involved, never has a group of friends been so engaging, likeable and strong together since Stand by Me. The younger members of the cast outshine all of the older members; the viewer begins to enjoy their presence while the young teens make their zombie movie, joke around with each other and chat about life in general. They are great fun to be around. The relationship that all the friends share is astonishing and results in an engaging and superior first half. The romance shared between Joe Lamb and Alice Dainard is far more convincing than anything involving Ashton Kutcher and also their romance is generally sweet. The second half of Super 8 becomes more about the special effects and the characters running around screaming but Abrams does such a wonderful job at creating likeable characters that these scenes of explosions and screaming are not the scenes of explosions and screaming we see in Transformers. The action scenes are not quite as entertaining as the moments in which the group of friends are sharing jokes and creating their zombie movie (which has numerous references to George A. Romero) but they contain characters that the viewer truly cares about so there is enough to keep most entertained during the explosions
Super 8 is clearly the most enjoyable and likeable film of the summer, mainly because it's a wonderful film with a nostalgic charm. The relationship and chemistry the young teenage actors have provides so much of the humour. There are plenty of scenes in which an impressive degree of tension is raised and there is an excellent sense of mystery sounding what came out of the train crash, though the actual revelation never meets the brilliant build up of tension revealing the mystery thing. It's a blockbuster with real emotion; the viewer feels empathy for Joel and his recent loss of his mother. It's a sweet, good natured film that never takes itself too seriously but seriously enough that there is a threat of danger. Yes, it is flawed; the GCI extravagant train crash is ridiculously over the top, the latter half becomes too much about the special effects and there are plenty of unanswered questions in the narrative but there is something about the film that presents itself as so likable that these flaws never come close to derailing the project.
Super 8 is a perfect family movie, the younger kids will be hugely rewarded by the special effects and mystery reveal, which may be less impressive to older audiences but the older audience members will be massively rewarded by the charming nostalgic 70s feel that brings them back to their childhood and those looking for a summer blockbuster with something different will be brilliantly rewarded by a film with heart, soul and something great underneath the GCI effects. Super 8 is proof that likeable characters are the recipe for success as they are always at the very heart of any film; the young adult actors' chemistry is what makes the film so likeable that it is, for myself at least, impossible to hate. Make sure not to leave as the credits roll.