If you are a young director and are looking to take on a veteran man behind the camera as your mentor then Steven Spielberg isn’t a bad choice to make. Spielberg over the course of his career has touched upon almost all subjects from ETs to dinosaurs to the holocaust. He is all about human emotions from grief to fear to belief. J.J. Abrams up until this point has stuck with the exploration of the universe, action and suspense type productions with his television shows like Lost and Alias and films like Star Trek and Cloverfield. Only his very first series, Felicity, dealt solely with relationships and human emotion. When he got it in his mind to make a film that reminded him of those that his mentor Spielberg made in the 80s it was a natural progression to combine the human element with that of the extraterrestrial one. And voila so Super 8 was born.
It is 1979 in Lillian, Ohio. Tragedy occurs when Elizabeth Lamb (Caitriona Balfe – first film) is killed in an accident at the local steel plant. In their mourning for the loss of the young mother, the townsfolk are most worried about her young son, Joe (Joel Courtney – first film), who was very attached to his mother and not very close to his father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler – from television’s Friday Night Lights).
Four months later during the summer break, Joe’s friend Charles (Riley Griffiths – first film) decides to shoot a Super 8 film to enter into a film festival in Cleveland. In a rewriting of his original script the deputy has a wife. Joe, who is playing the part, is not sure about the rewrite, but Charles calms him by saying that he already has Alice (Elle Fanning – We Bought a Zoo, Astro Boy) to play the part. They are to meet later that evening to shoot a scene.
Over dinner out that evening Jackson tells his son that he wants him to go to baseball camp this summer. Joe protests as he wants to help Charles finish his film. Nothing more is said. Alice, driving without a license, picks up Charles and Joe later that evening to bring them to the shoot at the Lillian Train Station. The rest of the crew, Cary (Ryan Lee – Shorts), Preston (Zach Mills – Changeling, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium) and Martin (Gabriel Basso – from television’s The Big C) are all there.
While filming a scene they all hear a train approaching and Charles orders them to snap into action as he wants to use the passing train in a scene. As they are filming, Joe sees a white truck turn onto the tracks and before anyone can do or say anything the truck hits the train, which causes a huge explosion and the train to derail. The cast and crew managed to scramble to safety. Joe hears pounding on one of the train doors just before it shoots open.
While exploring the crash site the young people find some strange white cubes and inside the truck the body of the local science teacher, Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman – Men of Honour, Burlesque). Thinking he is dead, Joe takes a map from his hand. Dr. Woodward scares every one of them by being alive, pulling a gun on them and threatening them all not to utter a word of what they’ve seen there. They then hear some men approaching, so they grab Charles’s camera and flee in Alice’s car.
The next day they discover that the lens of the camera is broken. Charles and Joe still drop off the film to be developed. The whole town is buzzing about the crash and Deputy Lamb is trying to figure out what happened. None of the young people admit they were there. Strange things begin happening in town and even the Sheriff (Brett Rice – Forrest Gump, Monster) has disappeared. All now believe that more than a simple accident happened.
All I could think about while watching this film was Spielberg’s film from my childhood about a little brown alien who just wanted to go home. J.J. Abrams Super 8 has that aura around it. Is it because it happened in 1979? Is it the subject matter? Is it due to the young actors involved? A combination of them all I say. If you didn’t know this was a J.J. Abrams film you would probably guess it was Spielberg. Just has that feel. It is a mashup of Goonies and ET. A culmination of what came before.
Old fashioned feel to the film as it takes you on a full journey. It makes you hearken back to your childhood. A mystery through the eyes of kids. It has all been washed through this lens. At every instance you feel as if something important is going to happen. Really recreates childhood and that over emphasis on simple occurrences. Everything at that age seems to be the end of the world. Only in this case, the young people are in the middle of something big.
With all the good feeling surrounding the film it is difficult to say something negative about it. Though the performances by the young people are great and Kyle Chandler is his usual magnetic self, there is something a bit slow about the story. For large periods of the film there seems to be nothing really happening. It lags. Maybe sadly this is due to the fact that I am no longer the age I was when I saw Goonies and ET. I have grown up and become more jaded. Harder to win over. That time is gone. And it is too bad.
- Audio Commentary by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, and Larry Fong
- The Dream Behind Super 8
- The Search for New Faces
- Meet Joel Courtney
- Rediscovering Steel Town
- The Visitor Lives
- Scoring Super 8
- Do You Believe in Magic?
- The 8mm Revolution
- Easter Eggs
- Deconstructing the Train Crash
- Deleted Scenes