A very obvious homage to Steven Spielberg films and still a good standalone film.
J.J. Abrams will be most widely known for his work as a producer and more specifically his work on the TV series Lost. The first major film he produced was the found footage film Cloverfield which I found surprisingly enjoyable as I have never really liked this new ‘found footage’ craze. He began his first major film as director with the pretty average Mission Impossible III before moving onto the reboot of Star Trek. He also wrote the Michael Bay disaster film Armageddon which I personally dislike, so I basically have a mixed view on his work.
Super 8 is set during the summer of 1979 where a group of friends witness a horrific train crash whilst making a film. Upon the crash strange events happen in their hometown in Ohio leading the curious friends to investigate.
Firstly it’s important to understand Steven Spielberg’s role here, though he is credited as producer this won’t be as deceptive as it usually is when a big name is stamped on a film (James Cameron for Sanctum) even though they often offer little creative input. This is a different case mainly for that fact that J.J. Abrams has said this film plays homage to Spielberg and if you have only seen a few of his films upon watching Super 8 you will still recognize this very obvious feeling. Homage films have been around for a while now but more recently they seem to have melded into the parody/spoof genre which due to the often poor quality (Disaster Movie or even Aaron Seltzer just look at his IMDB page!) insults rather than praises the films. However at least recently we got the delightful silent black and white The Artist which as well as offering a delightful alternative film, it was a marvelous homage to the silent era of cinema.
With this set up as a whole film sprinkled with homages to one of Hollywood’s biggest directors it could risk the standard of the film itself. Fortunately though this is both a successful homage and film in its own right, and the references don’t get in the way of plot, characters e.t.c. Without giving any of the film away J.J. Abrams uses the skills he learnt from producing Cloverfield to good effect here, though its not found footage the action leaves the viewer in suspense. In fact it’s worth exploring the action and indeed content of this film due to the 12/12a certificate it was given. The BBFC quote “The film was classified ’12’ for one use of strong language, moderate threat and soft drug use.” and this is where that awful line of classification leads us the problem lying as so often in the films cinema classification of 12a. Similar to the situation with The Woman in Black the 12a certificate allows anyone under the age of 12 to view the film as long as they are accompanied by an adult. Only the film will scare those of a younger audience but a 15 certificate would be harsh of 12 -14 year olds and damage the films intake. However I agree with BBFC in this case for the only for someone too young to view the film is if their parents are irresponsible enough to take them. So just be warned Super 8 is a 12 and anyone younger may find it scary.
As for the characters in super 8 it’s logical to begin with the young group of friends comparable to the group from The Goonies. Let’s begin with Joe (Joel Courtney) following his mother’s death he is left living alone with his father Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) who is an officer in the local police force. Joe is helping Charles (Riley Griffiths) to make a zombie film and along with help from the pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee) geeky Preston (Zach Mills) and wimpy Martin (Gabriel Basso). In order to create the film they need the help of Alice (Elle Fanning) to play the distraught wife. With any Spielberg film that involves kids the spirit is often shown very well and we get that here in super 8. Considering this is Joel Courtney’s first film he handles the role superbly and reminds the viewer of Henry Thomas’s performance as Elliott in E.T. Some of the other young actors have experience prior to this film like Zach Mills who appeared in several TV shows, all of them play their part to create a believable group of friends. Elle Fanning (Dakota Fanning’s little sister) is the most experienced having grown up doing films since she was just 3 years old playing the younger version of her sister in I am Sam, one can see how she will follow a similar path of stardom as her sister.
This has great moments of homages to it’s producer, however more importantly it is a good stand alone film with some great young actors. Support from the adult cast are also very good Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard create fathers both torn apart by the loss of Joe’s mother and they are well worth the mention here. With the film just under 2 hours the pace is kept high and leaves the audience in suspense and wonder, something we often have Spielberg to thank for.