Luckily for movie-goers, there are a lot of scifi and fantasy choices in theaters this summer. In fact, there have been quite a few good movies, but among this delightful summer fare Super 8 sets itself apart. For this review, I’m going to give it the highest recommendation: if you can only pick one movie to see in the next couple of months, Super 8 should be it. I’m not going to give you much more information or any spoilers, because a big part of what makes this movie wonderful is the journey into the unknown. Here’s the pertinent facts you will want to know.
Super 8 was written and directed by J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost, Fringe, Mission Impossible III, Star Trek). The story was discussed in a conference between Stephen Spielberg and Abrams, and is undoubtedly an homage to Spielberg’s moviemaking in style and substance. Interestingly enough, even with Spielberg’s involvement we don’t see Dreamworks but rather Amblin Entertainment – you know, the one with ET and the boy bicycling across the moon – as the production company. Visual effects are by Industrial Light and Magic; sound effects by Skywalker Sound. Starting to sound tempting, right?
The genius of this movie is the story and what Abrams has done with it. Set in 1979, the music, style, and setting were undoubtedly very real to him, and this makes the characters strikingly relatable. The movie opens with what amounts to the orphaning of 13-year-old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) when his mother is killed in an accident at the steel mill. His father, the town’s deputy sheriff (Kyle Chandler), is still around, but from the very first moments of the film it’s obvious his duty is to the town and not to his son. Joe’s story unfolds with the boy isolated from any sense of family, yet over the course of the movie we watch his friends, and the daughter of the town drunk, begin to fill this role against the backdrop of a horrific train crash and its aftermath.
This movie contains so many storytelling elements – coming-of-age, romance, father issues, redemption, mystery, comedy, science fiction, suspense, action, horror, even zombies – that at first blush it seems impossible Abrams could have done it all justice. On top of that, Abrams packs the story with clichés and characters we’ve seen a time or two before. He even breaks the fourth wall as he introduces the token female Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) into the merry band of boyhood friends. Remarkably, it all works.
Guaranteed you will laugh to the point your soda is in danger of spewing all over the person seated in front of you. You will jump out of your chair on at least several occasions; don’t worry, everybody else will, too. Spontaneous shrieking will occur. In between all the mayhem, your heart will break for a son and a father coming to grips with the tragedy of their lives, and it will soar with Joe as he rises above the horror unleashed by the train wreck to find love and hope.
Whatever you do, don’t leave when the credits start to run. It’s a guaranteed smile – plus the music of 1979 rocks!
This movie is a bona fide brownie sundae, with whip cream and the cherry on top.