If you are of a certain age, chances are you grew up under the influence of Stephen Spielberg. It’s a name that is forever as intrinsically linked to modern cinema as Chaplin is to the silent era. His influence, whether directing, or producing created a magical experience for millions, from The Goonies to Back to the future, there was something distinctive, and completely intangible about his effect, but you knew a Spielberg family adventure film when you saw one, if nothing else from the sight of the famous Amblin logo.
So it was with that in mind that I sat down to watch JJ Abrams Amblin produced summer blockbuster Super 8. Set in small town America, against a backdrop of seventies suburbia, the plot of Super 8 revolves around Joe Lamb, who is facing up to life without his mother after she is killed in an accident, and his difficult relationship with his father, the local Sherriff’s deputy. He is also helping his best friend Charles create a zombie film, during the making of which he begins to get to know Alice Dainer. However, everything changes after they narrowly escape from the scene of a huge train crash while filming, and a series of strange events unfolds, changing their lives and their town, forever.
From the opening seconds with the familiar Amblin logo, Super 8 evokes a definite feeling of 1980’s Spielberg films. There is a definite action/adventure vibe, and the camaraderie between the excellent cast of child actors recalls the performances seen in films like The Goonies, or ET. Elle Fanning almost steals the entire film with a wonderfully understated, yet mature turn, marking her out as one to watch for the future.
In many ways Super 8 is a love letter to the heyday of Amblin, just with a sprinkling of cynicism, and a huge special effects budget (as witnessed by the very real looking and awe inspiring train crash sequence, which will inevitably, and criminally, likely be overlooked by the academy early next year).
However, Super 8 is not without flaws. At times Abrams seems to feel the need to resort to previous form, trying too hard to disguise the film’s central plot, and throwing out red herrings unnecessarily. I appreciate the effort, but at times the effect is both confusing and overbearing, and as a result the film perhaps also takes a little time to get going.
Super 8 is not going to be loved by everyone. For those who watched the Amblin productions of the 1980’s, this film will transport them back to a wonderful, more innocent time, before the cynical 1990’s made it impossible to make films in this vein, and they will likely enjoy a magical experience as only Spielberg and his ilk can provide. However, those who did not have that experience may find it more difficult to access the more magical and somewhat nostalgic elements of Super 8. Though, to be honest, as someone in the former camp, I loved every minute of it.
Oh, and don’t switch off when the credits start, or you’ll miss something wonderful.
EXTRAS ★★★★ An audio commentary with writer/director Abrams, producer Bryan Burk and cinematographer Larry Fong; the featurette The Dream Behind Super 8 (16:28); the featurette The Search for New Faces (17:46), a look behind the scenes at the audition process; the featurette Meet Joel Courtney (14:35); the featurette Rediscovering Steel Town (18:24); the featurette The Visitor Lives (12:22); the featurette Scoring Super 8 (5:29); the featurette Do You Believe in Magic? (4:29); the featurette The 8mm Revolution (8:15); the easter eggs Meeting Spielberg (1:31), and Fear & Sadness (1:25); an interactive guide to Deconstructing the Train Crash; and 14 deleted scenes. Plus, being a Triple-Play, you get the film on Blu-ray, DVD and a digital copy.