Super 8 is an Abrams’ creature candy bar inside a shiny Spielberg wrapper. It’s a nostalgic look back at the wonderment and adventure of previous Spielberg films, but with the bigger and bolder Abrams’ treatment.
Twelve year old budding filmmaker Charles, played by Riley Griffiths, can think of nothing else but the production value on the Super 8 film he is attempting to make. He has enlisted the help of his friends, including his oldest friend Joe, played by the excellent Joel Courtney, to produce the zombie flick. While filming a key scene at an abandoned railroad station the production value gods seem to shine as an actual train begins to make it way past the station.
The scene is quickly cut short when a pickup truck on the tracks derails the train and it is destroyed in spectacular summer blockbuster fashion. Suddenly the bewildered young crew find themselves among skewed and burning metal. As plot would have it the driver of the truck survived the crash and presents them with a United States Air Force sized mystery.
Fleeing from the scene the group agrees to put the crash behind them and never speak of it again. However the strange occurrences which begin to plague the small Ohio town of Lillian make their silence impossible.
Beneath the explosions, military cover-ups and running around the film explores two broken relationships between fathers and their lonely children. Joe in particular is trying to find his place in the world since his mother’s unexpected death. His father, the town’s Deputy Sheriff, is broken as well and has never had to truly be a father.
The kids are reminiscent of another group of young friends on a quest for answers. Abrams seemed to have channeled the Goonies, but gave them bigger stakes and badder bad guys. He is to be commended for writing a script that allowed the kids to talk and interact like kids. Both Abrams and Spielberg influences can be seen throughout the film. From sounds that invoke Lost’s Smoke Monster to ominous shots that rival Jurassic Park’s pre T-rex scenes and enough lens flares to satisfy both filmmakers.
Although we can never recreate the awe that accompanied seeing E.T. or Close Encounters for the first time Super 8 does an excellent job of reminding us what those films meant.