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Abrams’ ‘Super 8’ is great fun

Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney star in Super 8.

MOVIE REVIEW: About half way through J. J. Abrams’ enormously enjoyable Super 8, I watched 15-year-old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) riding his bike through a small town in Ohio at twilight in the summer of 1979, and suddenly I felt as if it was 30 years ago, and I was in a movie theater in Cincinnati seeing ET for the first time.

Abrams is clearly quoting the iconic bicycle riding scenes from the great Spielberg film, just as he is also paying homage in Super 8 to Spielberg’s previous two films from the late ’70s, the classics Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws. (There’s a dash of both Goonies and Jurassic Park, too.)

While Abrams is not by any means Spielberg’s equal, the younger director, who rebooted Star Trek in 2009 and produced the TV series Lost, Fringe and Alias, is just as much a populist crowd-pleaser. By repurposing some of Spielberg’s greatest ideas and images and having Spielberg himself approve and produce the film, Abrams has given us the first great popcorn flick of the summer.

The title of Super 8 refers to the film that was used in pre-video amateur movie cameras, which is what Joe’s friends are using to make a zombie movie. During the filming of a romantic scene at a train station, they witness a spectacular derailment. They all barely, and miraculously, survive and discover that the derailment was caused by their crotchety biology teacher. He tells them that if they don’t run and keep what they’ve seen to themselves, “they” will kill them all.

“They,” it turns out, is the U.S. Air Force, which shows up to clean up the wreckage. As dogs, people and machinery start disappearing all over town – all taken by a large, unseen and very violent monster – Joe’s father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), tries to get to the bottom of the Air Force’s involvement with the train wreck and strange goings on.

Meanwhile, Joe and his friends continue to make their movie, using the Air Force’s invasion of the small town as a backdrop. And Joe falls for Alice (Elle Fanning), who stars in the movie and whose father has something to do with the death of Joe’s mom.

At its best, Super 8’s homage to Spielberg provides the humor, amazement and excitement of the films that made sci-fi blockbusters an annual summer treat three decades ago. At its worst, when it was clear that Abrams is relying too much on his idol’s past work, the film reminded me that Spielberg’s genius needs to be revisited. AI, his misunderstood masterpiece about artifice and childhood, is now in my Netflix queue.

Super 8
Written and directed by J. J. Abrams
Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Kyle Chandler
Rated PG-13
At your local multiplex


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Posted by on Jun 16, 2011. Filed under Movie Review. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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