For me the ages of 12 to 13 were, to be quite honest, horrible. Kids aren't really any more mature or blessed with any more tact than they had before but the insults are crueler. Bad days seem worse. Suddenly it matters what girls think of you. Basically... it stinks. Why then would anyone feel nostalgic about it, let alone nostalgic enough to make a movie about it? That's the question that lingered for me going in to "Super 8," a movie I was otherwise very much looking forward to. Having watched it I can now understand why.
A few months before the end of the school year, middle schooler Joe Lamb (newcomer Joel Courtney) lost his mother in a tragic accident. As the summer of 1979 begins Joe and his father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler, "Friday Night Lights") are understandably struggling. Jackson believes that getting out of their little town of Lillian, Ohio for a while might be just what they both need. But Joe is determined to help his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths, another newcomer) finish his zombie movie. The rest of their friends, Preston (Zach Mills, "Mr. Magorium"), pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee), and slow witted Martin (Gabriel Basso, "The Big C") round out the cast and crew. That is until Charles decides to add an emotional element to his script in the form of a girl, Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning).
As they film the movie's key scene on the town's railroad platform, a passing locomotive (which Charles feels will make for terrific "production value") collides with a pickup truck, causing a mammoth disaster that sends the kids running for their lives. A warning from a survivor of the crash convinces them to scatter just as the United States Air Force arrives on the scene. Joe and his friends know that something disturbing is afoot and soon the town of Lillian comes to realize it too.
Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, "Super 8" is a loving ode to its own producer Steven Spielberg, without coming off as fanboy worship (mostly). It works so well because the nostalgia feels genuine. It managed to do what I didn't believe possible. It made the thought of being twelve years old not sound so terrible. The film got me thinking about my own childhood, my own geekdom, and it sort of made me wish that I'd met my best friend a few years earlier. I think our twelve year old selves would have had a blast together. Abrams keeps the focus on the emotion and the characters, getting the most from his young performers, two of whom were completely inexperienced. Honestly, you'd never know that Joel Courtney had never acted on screen before and he's the film's lead. Fanning meanwhile displays a true talent that is astounding, considering she's merely thirteen years old.
The visual effects were far better than most in our CGI age. For the most part they don't particularly look like visual effects which is exactly as it should be. It fits well with the overall style of the picture. Abrams' movie is about the love of filmmaking and about trying to make things seem as real as possible. It's a movie that will bring out your inner twelve year old. You'll laugh, be entertained, be moved, and ultimately be amazed by the sense of magic that "Super 8" posseses.
Yes, it does have some flaws. A few moments take their Spielbergian inspiration a bit too far and the ending seems to take a bit too long. But even the flaws somehow seem to belong there. This is after all the story of kids making a Super 8 horror film. And as the film faded to black I found myself doing something I almost never do. I was wishing that it wasn't done yet. In truth it wasn't. Don't leave when the credits start.
"Super 8" is a flawed but wonderful film that does everything you want from a summer blockbuster that you rarely actually get. 9/10.