Last week I was on holiday in Florida with my family and whilst there we took the opportunity to watch some films in American cinemas. One was X-Men: First Class, which I have already given my views on here, the other was JJ Abrams’ Super 8, one of the best films that I have seen this year. Since this isn’t out in the UK until August 8th, I will not be giving away any spoilers in this review for anything major in the film. Go see the film and discover the design of the alien for yourself.
To start of with, I am a huge supporter of JJ Abrams as a director, to me he seems to get how filmmaking works and through this he channels his joy with film to the audience. This means that Abrams knows how to make a full working narrative out of concepts that shouldn’t work, mainly rebooting the long joked about Star Trek series into an exciting, intelligent and serious series with his version of Star Trek in 2009, which was my favorite film of that year. Abrams brings this through again with Super 8, on paper this film shouldn’t work, a bunch of kids finding a alien whilst filming a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera which captures the only footage of the alien, it doesn’t sound like it’ll be good to me and it’ll just turn into a cheesy b-movie near the end. As it turns out, Abrams delivers a very compelling sci-fi film with powerful themes about loss and the parent-child relationship. There are two key scenes that show the true humanity of the film, one which I won’t reveal because of its significance to the plot, the other being a short scene early in the film in which the dad in sat in the bathroom, crying over the death of his wife in silence.
A key factor as to why the film succeeds is the strength of the child actors. I have said from the beginning that this film would live or die on the performances of the child actors and thankfully, they are all excellent. The main standouts from the child actors are Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb, Riley Griffiths as Charles Kaznyk and Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard. Courtney is the main actor in the film and has to covey his feelings of pain over the death of his mother at the start of the film, mostly through saying nothing. This is the type of performance that I like as I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words and the scene at the start where Joe is sitting on the swings in his garden after his mothers funeral, wanting to be alone from everyone else gives a far greater portrayal of his pain over losing his mother than anything else in the rest of the film. Riley Griffiths is also fantastic as Charles and his performance really channels the personalities of Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams when they were younger, always talking about production value, script updates and framing the shots in his zombie film with his hands, exactly like Spielberg. However the true standout from the child actors is Elle Fanning as Alice and, I will say this now, she is a better actress than her sister, Dakota Fanning. I also have to give this message to the film industry, can you please stop spoiling us with fantastic child actresses, I mean in the past year 3 brilliant child actresses, Chloe Grace Moretz, Hailee Steinfeld and now Elle Fanning, have cropped up, can you please slow down and save the next crop of brilliant child actresses for a few years. Fanning is straight up phenomenal in this film, able to convincingly pull of the moments of both joy and sadness throughout the film with her key emotional scene in the film actually sending me to tears because of how good the performance was and the scene in which the rest of the child crew at the train station are in awe of her acting ability is very much the same reaction I had due to the quality of the performance, leading into some of the funniest visual gags I’ve seen this year.
Another way the child performances succeed is due to the quality of the adult performances accompanying them. Kyle Chandler is fantastic as Deputy Lamb, Joe’s dad and with his performance brings out the true pain of his character with little words, the crying scene mentioned above being a key part of it. Noah Emmerich is suitably slimy as Colonel Nelic, a brilliant villain for this type of film, bringing in reminders of the military personnel from ET. I cannot comment on the performances of Ron Eldard as Louis Dainard or Glynn Turman as Dr Woodward as doing so would be spoiling the film but I will say that those performances are excellent.
The area where Abrams really shines however is in his direction of the action scenes. The only one I can talk about in this review is the train crash, which is without a doubt, the best scene I’ve seen in any movie so far this year. The way that Abrams always stays above the action allowing the audience to see every single component of the train crashing and him centering the perspective on the crash firmly on Joe makes the action scene pack a massive punch as you don’t see whether any of the other children survive until after the crash has finished which sends the audience to the edge of their seats in tension during this scene. I also want to address something about Abrams now, lens flares. Unlike most people I don’t mind the lens flares, in the whole running time of Super 8 I only noticed one lens flare, I don’t understand why people hates Abrams for this, I mean, that was one of the main complaints Abrams had with Star Trek yet it made perfect sense, it started with a massive lens flare which was the reflection of the Sun the USS Kelvin was situated next to on the surface of the console, I was natural there would be a lens flare, I don’t mind that about Abrams, at least he isn’t like Michael Bay zooming the action in so close that you can’t even see what the hell is going on, Abrams keeps a safe distance to allow the audience to see everything that is going on in the train crash. I would willingly pay to see Super 8 again, in IMAX, in order to see that crash on the high quality of an IMAX screen.
Most people have been saying Super 8 owes a lot to Spielberg films like Close Encounters and ET, for me the film Super 8 reminded me most of was The Goonies. The relationship between the characters being very natural, in-over-there-head adventures, constant swearing and underground caverns. Super 8 is a close as you will get to a remake of The Goonies at this time. Then again, The Goonies is often called a timeless children’s classic so Super 8 having so much in common with The Goonies could lead to Super 8 becoming a classic in the future.
In conclusion, Super 8 is incredible, plain and simple. I cannot explain everything in the review but then again, I don’t want to. You need to go and see Super 8 in order to see just what Abrams and Spielberg have in store for you and I can tell you know, I had so much fun whilst watching this film due to the very likable characters, incredible performances and sense of wonder that films today are lacking. I cannot recommend Super 8 highly enough. Go see this film.
My Rating: 5/5
P.S. Stay during the first 5 minutes of the credits, there is a brilliant extra scene during them.