Dir. J.J. Abrams. U.S.A. 2011.

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The best thing that can be said about J.J. Abrams Super 8 is that it reminds us of the memorable science fiction films of the 80s that touched our lives. There is nothing in Super 8, however, that even touches those seminal movies. In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, it is “déjà vu all over again” but without the same touching and tender story, wit and charm, feeling of magic, beautiful score, or memorable performances. It is obvious right from start that enhanced CGI effects, loud explosions, frightening monsters, fake emotions, and dysfunctional families do not take the place of heart and soul, but, of course, we know that in today's Hollywood schlock factory, heart and soul do not bring in the big bucks. 

Set in suburbia (where else?) in 1979 (Lillian, Ohio to be exact), young teen Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) lives with his father (Kyle Chandler), a deputy police officer. Both are trying to overcome the effects of the death of Joe's mother in a recent accident. During the lazy summer, Joe and his friends Charles (Riley Griffiths) Martin (Gabriel Basso), Cary (Ryan Lee), and Preston (Zach Mills) are attempting shoot a short zombie film with Charles' Super 8 camera. The biggest reason Joe agrees to do it, however, is because of his attraction to 14-year-old Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) who is playing the wife of the film's hero. Though Courtney and Fanning do a more than creditable job, the other teens are mostly one-dimensional stock characters without any authentic interactions. They are terrific at screaming and yelling, however, and saying “Oh! My God” with a shocked look plastered on their faces. 

The film begins to get its focus when a freight train passing through the area where they are filming is derailed by a pick-up truck driving on the same track. The ensuing train crash is the best since “The Fugitive” but it is so overblown that it looks like the train was hit by a nuclear missile, rather than a pick-up truck. This is only the start of the mayhem. People and animals disappear including the Lamb's pet dog Lucy, appliances and machine parts are stolen, and a variety of other mysteries abound. Of course, the townsfolk demand answers from the police, but the military that arrives to cordon off the area reveal nothing.

Of course, if we trust the military to solve anything, we are on shaky grounds to begin with. 
Speculation is ripe, however, and one of the brightest members of the community is convinced that the Russkies are behind everything. Abrams cleverly withholds what the fuss is all about until three-quarters of the film is over. By that time, most viewers have either had a coronary from the unbearable suspense, their children are running up and down the aisles, unhinged by terror, and the rest of the audience have either gone deaf from the explosions, fallen asleep, or left the theater. 

Abrams can't make up his mind if he wants the culprit to be cute and cuddly (though with a very big face) or a demolition expert because his feelings were hurt. The ultimate explanation is so ridiculous that if I gave it away, it would cause hysterical laughter. In any case, we know that the kids will turn out to be super brave, super lucky, or the rest of the bunch, super stupid. If you are gutsy enough to make it to the ending, you will think you are in a time warp watching an early Spielberg film. It is so derivate that Spielberg fans should sue for grand theft. Oh, wait - Spielberg is listed as the producer. He ought to sue himself for crimes against humanity. 


Howard Schumann

Also see Chris Knipp's review of Super 8.

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