Seeing the Amblin Entertainment and Bad Robot logos instills happiness and excitement in me, along with colossal expectations. I’m a fan of Steven Spielberg (producer) and J.J. Abrams (writer, director) – really, though, who isn’t? – so to see their names together gives quite a thrill. Unfortunately, expectations set that high are almost impossible to reach, and I found their first official collaboration almost meeting that crazy-high bar, yet falling a bit short.
If you’ve seen a trailer, you can probably figure out what they want you to know about the plot. Without giving away too much (the whole crux of the film IS a mystery, after all), a group of middle schoolers in the summer of 1979 decide to make a zombie movie, accidentally witness and film a train accident (one HELL of an exciting scene), at which point the small Ohio town they live in becomes plagued with missing persons and problems galore.
Breaking down the film’s genetic code you can find pieces of E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Cloverfield, The Goonies, The Mist, hell, I even caught a whiff of District 9. It’s definitely Abrams’ homage to Spielberg, and by the same rights, certainly his own film.
The cast consists of a group of kids, mostly newcomers, between the ages of 13 and 16. They’re all terribly charming and likeable; a few get a lot of laughs (the scared puker and shrimpy, spunky cameraman/zombie in particular). Unknown Joel Courtney plays Joe, our lead, and he reminds me an awful, awful lot of Elliot in E.T. I’m not the first person to say this, because dammit it’s the truth. He’s got a kind heart and a shaggy 70s look about him. Elle Fanning is Alice, the one girl in their group, who’s reluctantly agreed to be the one girl in their movie. She does a great job, proving herself every bit as capable as her big sister. Kyle Chandler (who no human could possibly dislike – if you do, check your pulse, you bastard) and Ron Eldard (who I loved on ER) are Joe and Alice’s fathers, respectively, and they do fine jobs playing troubled, single dads.
While it’s a very enjoyable and effective flick, in some ways it left me a bit empty. Maybe it’s because my expectations were set too high (my own problem) or that so much of this felt pulled from other stories that have come before, or that the mystery wasn’t as satisfying as I wanted (again, my own problem). I feel bad to beat it up, because it’s not a bad film, and isn’t worthy of a beating. The cast is well-chosen and does a great job, it surely evokes the late 70s/early 80s, and you can smell the Spielberg and Abrams aromas all over it. I guess I wanted a bit more magic, but don’t let that detract you from a fun summer movie that’s more than worth seeing – just go in knowing that Super 8 will probably not touch you the way its throwbacks did once upon a time.