Review by J.T. Johnson
J.J. Abrams, the director of “Star Trek” and producer of countless television shows including “Lost” and “Alias”, has given audiences another sci-fi blockbuster. The story is set in 1979 and it follows a group of kids who are trying to make a super 8 horror movie in order to enter a film festival. While filming one night, they witness a massive train derailment that would make director Michael Bay proud.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. After the disaster, something sinister escapes from one of the train cars and before the audience can catch a glimpse, it’s gone. Not long after the incident, the military is on the scene to clean the mess up.
Despite this setting, the film really centers around Joe (Joel Courtney), a kid who is dealing with a great personal tragedy. Like earlier Steven Spielberg films, it is a deeply human film buried within its more extraordinary moments. This comes as no surprise when considering that like most blockbusters released in recent years, Spielberg serves as the executive producer.
The movie takes its time to set up its cast and for the first part of the film the monster is almost an afterthought. This may bother some audience members who want to get straight to the action, but considering that this is one of the few original projects released this year, it was refreshing to see some time spent getting to know the characters. When things finally go nuts, the audience actually gives a damn about those involved.
As far as the action is concerned, the film follows two Spielberg formulas. First, the monster is rarely shown in a similar fashion to “Jaws” where the shark was never really seen until the third act. This formula has always worked considering the fact that the audience will always imagine something worse in their minds as opposed to seeing the menace right from the start.
When the third act does begin, “Super 8” has more in common with “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” when the kids finally confront not just the monster but also the shadowy military soldiers tracking said monster. The great news is that the narrative always has a natural flow and the storytelling is spot on. It may be a tribute to earlier Spielberg films, but it still manages to maintain its own heart and soul along the way.
Even the music feels like it was gloriously ripped from an earlier Spielberg film. Abrams’ main composer Michael Giacchino has always delivered in the music department and there are moments where he seems to be channeling Spielberg’s main composer, John Williams. Again, this is a successful tribute without losing all originality.
There are a few things that keep the film from achieving a perfect score. First off, the film has too many moments where it is trying to set up the time period of the film and this does take the audience out of the story for a moment. The film is set in the 1970s and after a couple of pop culture references, the audience understands this and needs no more visual or audio cues.
The biggest problem comes from Abrams’ very own trademark. Like “Star Trek” before it, “Super 8” contains a lot of lens flare effects. It was a little more forgivable in “Star Trek” because the film was set in space and it did help set the otherworldly aspect of that universe. Here, the effect is just annoying and there are even a couple of instances where characters’ faces are briefly blocked out by the light.
Despite these minor troubles, Abrams has delivered another thrilling film that will surely satisfy audiences. The director always said that he meant for this film to act as a tribute to earlier films such as the aforementioned “Jaws” and “E.T.” In the end, Spielberg and the audience should be proud.