J. J. Abrams’s Super 8 feels like a film that was made during the 1980’s, effectively evoking the mood of nostalgia that other films that came out during said era would have left on viewers since. It’s a film that is proud in itself of the era in which its storyteller had grown up within, where the films of Steven Spielberg (who also served as producer), Richard Donner, Robert Zemeckis, and John Carpenter among the lot would have become prominent and proven influential on many generations that have followed – and eager to show what it had learned. This habit of Abrams’s doesn’t come without any faults, but there’s a clear sense of passion coming out from the eyes in which it is being told from and it proves itself to be the most important factor as to why Super 8 works as is.
Set in 1979 Ohio, Super 8 tells the story of a group of friends who are conspiring to shoot a zombie film together as part of an international film competition through a Super 8 camera. As they are shooting one of the most important scenes at a train station, they end up becoming witnesses to a derailment as they escape with their own lives. But the crash only sets forward another series of strange events within their town, and these friends now seek to find out the truth behind why the crash had taken place, setting them off on a newer adventure. From the very beats of the premise you can already tell that J. J. Abrams wanted to tell a Spielbergian story the way that he wanted to, having learned so much from growing up in said era and in how well he captures that very feeling of its own setting, it keeps Super 8 so thoroughly entertaining.
At the film’s very best, it’s easy enough to say that the children are all very good: particularly Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning. The chemistry between the gang is what keeps Super 8 worth your time because every moment between the two is built upon the sweetness that they all bring into their roles. It helps that J. J. Abrams’s direction evokes the mood that had made Spielberg’s films so distinctive, by having the very story being told with an unabashed sense of sentimentality to place yourself within the atmosphere being created – akin to the film that the gang themselves are aspiring to make. Beyond its own limits as a nostalgic love letter to the 80’s, J. J. Abrams pulls oneself into the very universe of Super 8 in the best way by giving a taste of how these stories have affected us at this stage of life thanks to the humanity that exists within its setting.
But although the perfect atmosphere has been set up, the nostalgic elements do find themselves at a fault when you soon find that it doesn’t exactly feel as original as it is. Being a film that takes entirely from the concept of how nostalgic memories affect one’s own growth, the science fiction elements themselves within the narrative are not particularly as engaging. It’s easy enough to say that there could be a whole lot coming forth from the children witnessing the train crash that did not have to involve the alien coming within the town, but as J. J. Abrams kept rolling on with it, it feels like a long jump away from what already made Super 8 engaging as it is. There could be something more profound coming forth about how the experiences of being so close towards an incident that would have claimed their lives can affect the way the gang had grown up, but as the film turns more towards the science fiction route it only becomes less engaging first from taking away the best performer and having her not present until the climax (Elle Fanning) and then adding up to an underwhelming conclusion that feels derivative when observing from the surface.
Nevertheless, it’s easy to see passion in the way J. J. Abrams tells this story because of how he guides the viewers through the world as his own characters see them, having grown up with films from the era of its own setting. The unabashed sentimentality of Super 8 together with the sweetness of the gang themselves as they are sticking to one another is what keeps the film worth your time, but even then it is still caught within the problem of trying to find a certain identity for itself. For those moments when you have a great coming-of-age story you also have a science fiction-horror movie that doesn’t blend together with the coming-of-age elements, yet it still feels sweet enough you still stick along with the ride. And there alone is where the most important aspects of Super 8 reside.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount.
Directed by J. J. Abrams
Screenplay by J. J. Abrams
Produced by J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Steven Spielberg
Starring Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Joel McKinnon Miller, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills
Release Year: 2011
Running Time: 112 minutes