Is a train crash caught on Super 8 an accident or a deliberate attack? A group of friends in the movie Super 8 attempt to find out.
Writer/director/producer J.J. Abrams, whose film credits include Star Trek (2009)and TV’s Lost and Alias,has been making movies since he was 13, when he theatrically killed off each of his relatives using fake blood drawn from his mother’s cosmetics purse, filmed on the ultimate home movie machine of its day: the Super 8. Decades later, Abrams’s Super 8 pays homage to his adolescence with a story set in 1979 about a group of young friends with a passion for making zombie movies. The budding filmmakers, about half a dozen kids, cover all the tasks of production, including camera, script, makeup, direction, and of course, pyrotechnics.
Late one night, the kids are shooting a scene at the depot when an approaching freight train crashes into a vehicle in a series of earth-rattling explosions. The train wreck spurs a mystery that takes us the entire film to unravel, and frankly, I’m still working on it. So at this point I’ll tell you that I would recommend the film less for Abrams’s fictional style and more for the spirit he captures in the kids who love making gruesome movies. I would also alert you to remain seated through the closing credits to view the young filmmakers’ zombie movie, which will make you love these kids even more.
Abrams launches some fine young actors; 14-year-old Riley Griffiths plays Charles, the boy who owns the Super 8 and naturally runs the show. Joel Courtney, age 15, plays Joe, the makeup and effects specialist. And 13-year-old screen veteran Elle Fanning plays Allison, the lovely classmate that Charles casts in their movie and whose talent steals their show, not that anyone minds. Finally, Joe’s father, the town deputy, is played by Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), whom I mention because he’s so damn good-looking that he just has to show up.
Super 8 may contain some historical anachronisms, like dialogue that sounds too current. But this sci-fi journey, faintly reminiscent of E.T., is teeming with heart, not the kind that makes our eyes roll but the kind that makes us warm and fuzzy and somewhat forgiving of wherever the film falls short. The kids’ enthusiasm provides a charming support for the story’s required chaos, like a fine Cabernet served at a Halloween block party. Abrams shares the nostalgia of his childhood filmmaking fervor, a passion that has obviously never waned. And all we can do is love his gusto and enjoy the show. B+
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