Original review featured on The Doha Film Institute website.
Film: Super 8, 2011
Director: J.J. Abrams
Set in the summer of 1979, a group of friends witness a mysterious train crash while shooting a film they are working on with a Super 8 camera. What seems like an accident, however, is followed by unusual events and the disappearance of locals. The local deputy senses there’s more to the situation than what the army is revealing, and tries to unearth the truth. What was once a serene community is about to live the most surreal of experiences.
The trailer doesn’t reveal much, and I admire that. Shrouding the film in mystery worked effectively as it deepens our intrigue, leaving the real story for us to uncover as we watch the film itself.
‘Super 8’ feels like a tribute to the mega sci-fi classics we all know so well, and setting the film in the summer of 1979 gives it an altogether timeless charm. I wasn’t surprised to discover that Steven Spielberg had produced the film as it is, without a doubt, influenced by some of his best: ‘E.T.’, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, and even ‘The Goonies’. A lot of Spielberg zeal is poured into this picture, but the credits still go to the director, J.J. Abrams (of ‘Lost’ fame), who also wrote this script.
So here’s the deal: Charles (Riley Griffiths) is directing a film with his friends based on a romantic Zombie story (Zombie romance is such a fun idea!). His friends – and fellow crew members – include the son of the town’s deputy, Joe (Joel Courtney), who is in charge of the make-up and models for the film, but is dealing with the recent loss of his mother in an accident. He develops a unique relationship with Alice (Elle Fanning), the most beautiful girl in school and the daughter of one of the town’s most famous troublemakers. Alice is slightly older than the rest of the crew, and she bedazzles them not only with her outstanding acting but also at her ease in becoming part of their crew, something for which the male crew members are eternally grateful. The remainder of the crew is made up of Martin (Gabriel Basso), Preston (Zach Mills) and Cary (Ryan Lee). Cary is the comic relief of the film, and is obsessed with fireworks and explosions. He is also young and lively, with a character that you can’t but fall in love with.
The friends, after seeing the carnage of the train crash, decide to keep their experiences secret for many reasons, including the fact that they all left their houses without their parents’ knowledge.
On the surface, a mysterious investigation is set in motion following this huge, disastrous train crash. However, all the dogs in the city have disappeared, people are claimed to be missing, and items are suddenly vanishing from inside peoples’ houses. So what could it possibly be?
On a deeper level, the town’s local deputy Jackson (Kyle Chandler) is distressed at the loss of his beloved wife, obsessed with his job and too distant from his grieving son, Joe, to pay him much attention. Alice, meanwhile, is experiencing a very different type of miscommunication with her very difficult and wildly overprotective father. We soon discover that the events surrounding these stories will have strong repercussions on these single-parent families.
The relationship of the would-be filmmakers is quite a unique one, as they compensate for their lack of expression at home with each other. To them, their film is a little world they are creating, away from reality. In actual fact they team up well in taking advantage of external situations – like the train crash and the army spreading all around town – to obtain more credible footage. It’s a remarkable cast indeed, with brilliant actors able to express innocence, street-smarts and passion.
It is a film with no major celebrities and, in my opinion, that’s what makes it so special. The kids will remind you of yourself and your wildest dreams, just waiting to make it to the big time. I know you want me to reveal more, but I don’t want to spoil it as the mystery of the film is left totally unsolved without any substantial hints until the very end, which is, to a certain extent, predictable.
It is a nostalgic journey in the 1970s that will appeal to the older generation, reviving their memory with the mood of the sci-fi films from their childhood while creating a new tradition for the younger generation. Following a Twitter vote yesterday the majority of our Tweeps requested we review this film, so we are looking forward for your comments. It’s out in Doha today, so go on – enjoy the show and tell us what you think!