I have really missed those “family” sci-fi films of the 80s–the kind that put Steven Spielberg on the map–and it’s like a warm cup of Nestle’s Quik to be enjoying the nostalgic comfort and thrill again in JJ Abrams’s new movie, inspired by those films. It’s virtually impossible to watch Super 8 without thinking of Spielberg’s E.T. A small Ohio town is home to a very normal boy who lost his mother in a factory accident. His father, the sheriff’s deputy is struggling to relate to his son while dealing with his own grief. One night when the boy and his dorky friends are working on a short film, they barely avoid being killed by a train-wreck. The mysteries begin to pile as the air force shows up to hide unknown cargo; and people, dogs, and equipment start to disappear throughout the local area. If it’s an alien creature in that derailed train, you can bet it doesn’t just want Reese’s Pieces.
True to this sub-genre, most of the movie is not spent chasing creatures or dealing with government conspiracies. Instead, the focus falls on the young characters, including the deputy’s son Joe (played by newcomer Joel Courtney); Alice, the cute blond girl Joe’s crushing on (played by Dakota’s sister Elle Fanning); and Charles, the would-be zombie-film director and Joe’s best friend. The young actors all give wonderful performances that are realistic and substantial yet humourous and playful as well. Kyle Chandler is also excellent as the grieving father who’s got the burden of taking care of the whole town once things start going crazy, but who can’t even reach out to his own son. I was a bit worried that this movie might end up like Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, where the family stuff was not nicely blended with the crazy sci-fi. I remember the scene where Tom Cruise’s character gets into an argument with his teenage son right as they’re trying to escape from aliens. The drama was out of place and poorly timed. In Super 8, the two genres blend nicely together (again, like they did in E.T.). (BTW, if you have a weak heart, you should be warned that Abrams apparently likes the shock value of scaring the audience (the cat-jumping-out-of-a-dark-doorway kind of scare) in the middle of a character’s conversation.)
While I didn’t appreciate it at first, there’s also a lot of technique used by Abrams to really make this movie not only feel like a period movie (the period being 1979) but actually appear to have been made in the 80s. Obviously the clothing, hairstyles and vehicles, etc., show their supposed time period, but even the filmmaking techniques (such as a lot of lens flare, and a more jarring soundtrack). The sense of nostalgia evoked by this movie was quite effective, and I felt not only like I was watching the 80s, but that I was back in the 80s.
As far as actual sci-fi is concerned, there’s very little of it. However, there are sudden bursts both of action and excitement that keep this movie going. I think it’s great for a relaxing matinee. With sci-fi movies mostly focused now on superheroes, it’s nice to watch a more classic style of film that’s just as fun (4.5 out of 5)