Plot: A group of teenagers living in 70’s America attempt to create their own zombie movie, but when a train-crash derails filming, their thoughts turn to more serious matters as a mysterious creature stalks their small town.
Thoughts: Science-fiction has most notably been alive since the early 50’s, with classics such as ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ popularizing the genre and the likes of Steven Spielberg truly bringing it to life in the late 70’s and early 80’s, dazzling the planet with his spectacular pictures ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and ‘E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial’. Over the next 30 years we watched the slow decline of beloved sci-fi as we know it, with messy digital effects and un-original storytelling crucifying the once legendary genre. Then adrift, only used by tent-pole filmmakers and hard-core geeks, science fiction was drastically in need of a kick up the backside, warranting one J.J. Abrams to give it a shot, and how thankful we are that he did.
‘Super 8’’s incredibly thoughtful execution truly carries the picture above and beyond anybody’s expectations. Abrams, a previous triumph with his 2009 re-boot of the Star Trek franchise, is the true hero of the piece, although a large deal of praise must be bequeathed unto the great Steven Spielberg, the influence obvious but lovingly applied with little cracks showing. It is Abrams intense love of the early Spielberg universe of space-traveling aliens and tension-building monster movies that powers the entire film, the playful 70’s setting echoing through the celluloid immediately, no time stamps or references needed.
Our vision of the rather intense and unpredictable events are beautifully channeled by the surprisingly in-experienced cast of children, each performance perfectly suited, not one line out of place. Whereas the supporting cast (also unknowns) are too, terrifically believable, it is young Joel Courtney who truly steals the show; a tremendous emotional tone to both his performance and the character creating a true fondness of him and demanding his survival. Which, although many would think to be obvious, is actually oddly un-telling for the majority of the picture. Abrams creates a seriously dark tone for a large part of the film, classic scare-tactics and sudden shocks leaving certain events to be sincerely unforeseeable and allowing the movie to be far from childish without completely alienating the younger crowd. The creeping creature provides plenty of unknown terror, the sound alone carrying the frightfully startling and incredibly jumpy attack sequences.
However, despite the early ambiguity, Abrams does eventually reveal a great deal, most of which could be happily ignored including the detailed appearance of the creature itself. The greatest downfall of a previous Abrams monster project entitled ‘Cloverfield’ was it’s over-use of the monster’s appearance and lack of uncertainty leading one to believe why he fell for the same thing once again, although clearly learning (if so partially) from his previous mistakes, holding off the big reveal to the very end. It is at this point that the film very much crosses over from the dark side, becoming more ‘E.T.’ than ‘Jaws’ showing a real sensitive side to the hair-raising terror, losing all fear but accepting so and replacing it with much more sympathy and emotion. For many this will work, for others, maybe not so much, but in being linked to a clever conclusion, most will not question such antics.
Not only does ‘Super 8’ dazzle with it’s incredible story-telling, astoundingly fantastic acting and intelligent directing, it does so whilst maintaining a relatively original premise, solid plot and only uses CGI effects when absolutely necessary, all doing so in glorious 2D, which is far more than can be said for 90% of modern science fiction features. In doing this it distances itself from brainless blockbusters and downtrodden franchises, making ‘Super 8’ one of the finest movies of the summer and possibly even the year, further proving that intelligent filmmaking still does exist, and there’s plenty yet to see. With Abrams filling the shamefully vacant boots of Spielberg, science fiction is very much alive again, and is definitely kicking.