Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Joel Courtney, Zach Mills, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee, Riley Griffiths
Watch Super 8 online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
If recent sci-fi flicks have taught us anything, it’s that adults haven’t the foggiest idea how to handle an alien invasion. Kids, on the other hand, have got it covered. And J.J. Abrams knows it. Like E.T., Super 8 sticks to the young’uns perspective, giving everything a nice 80s vibe. There are model trains and Sony Walkmans – if your geeky inner child made a movie, Super 8 would probably be it.
Abrams’ inner child is clearly having a ball. We start off following Joe Lamb (Courtney), a kid who spends his time sneaking out of the house to help his friend Charles (Griffiths) finish his movie. But while they’re filming a scene at the station, a train blows up, bringing with it bumps in the night, disappearing dogs and a massive military invasion.
It’s exactly the kind of thing that you’d expect from a monster movie. And so Charles starts shooting his zombie adventure with the army forces in the background. “Production value!” he shouts, as tanks roar past their Super 8 camera. Meanwhile, Abrams runs around off-screen making sure everything’s as post-modern as possible. The result? A screenplay that looks like a multi-storey car park.
It’s most obvious when we watch the scene where Martin (Basso) and Alice (Fanning) pretend to fall in love, while (shock, horror) Joe and Alice actually fall in love in real life. Whoah. Now that’s meta-filmmaking.
The problem with Abrams’ post-modern approach is that it encourages you to deconstruct everything. And yet despite being so self-aware, Super 8 is never less than engaging. The main reason for that is the superb acting. The cast are uniformly excellent, and the kids nail that amateur movie-making vibe: “I wouldn’t help you if it wasn’t for our time in Vietnam together,” says Joe to Martin, putting on a false moustache and a deep voice. “I’d rather not talk about it,” comes the squeaky reply.
Out of the adults, Kyle Chandler’s concerned dad anchors the movie within the movie, but the standout star is undoubtedly Elle Fanning. An actress who can pretend to act while still being good at acting? That girl’s going places. She even makes for a convincing zombie.
It all thunders along in Abrams’ usual fashion, complete with several unnecessary explosions, but the visuals are pristinely rendered; when it looks this good, it seems silly to complain about the self-indulgent train crash lasting too long, or the fact that the entire film is essentially building up to one giant lens flare.
If only Abrams didn’t indulge his script quite so much. Trying to give every character a moment of resolution, some subplots feel rushed – unrequited love and long-held feuds are tied up in under a minute. But if it’s a case of ticking boxes on a spreadsheet, at least they’re ticked in earnest. Super 8 is clearly a personal project for both producer Steven Spielberg and the Star Trek director. And in the world of big-budget sci-fi blockbusters, they don’t come along very often.