June 22, 2011
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Starring Elle Fanning, Joel Coutenay & Kyle Chandler. Directed by J.J. Abrams. 112 minutes, PG-13
Some young teens witness something sensational---and terrifying---in “Super 8,” the new collaboration from director-writer J.J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg that’s much richer, much deeper and much more moving than its “monster movie” premise might suggest.
Abrams’ resume includes the hit TV series “Lost” and the 2009 big-screen revival of “Star Trek.” Spielberg, as most of the world knows, is the moviemaking icon behind a long line of blockbusters, including “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.”
This is the first shared project for the two successful director/writer/producers, and it’s really an affectionate, loveably geeky homage to both filmmakers’ wonder years, when movies were gateways to worlds of imagination, mystery, danger, romance and good, old-fashioned, scare-your-pants-off terror.
“Super 8,” set in the late 1970s, involves a train accident, something big and nasty that escapes from the wreckage, and a reel of home movie film that accidentally captures it all.
But it’s really a movie about movies, riffing on vintage ’50s monster and sci-fi themes, and built around a group of kids making a movie. And it’s meticulously stamped, top to bottom, with the imprint of two guys who both got their first taste of filmmaking by shooting with home-movie cameras and the Kodak film from which “Super 8” takes its name.
The terrific cast of likeable young newcomers includes 13-year-old Elle Fanning, Dakota’s little sister. And, alongside her, 15-year-old Joel Coutenay makes a most impressive screen debut that provides the movie’s essential emotional center.
The kids are working on a homemade zombie flick--inspired by George Romero’s no-budget “Night of the Living Dead”--when their camera captures something else, something far scarier...and something possibly quite scared itself.
Even though Spielberg isn’t behind the camera, “Super 8” frequently evokes some of his greatest creations. It often seems, in fact, that the whole movie is Abrams’ tribute to classic Spielberg-ian moments, emotions, techniques and ingredients.
The movie does a great job of capturing the look and feel of its time and place, from hairstyles and clothing to bicycles, walkie-talkies, Sony Walkmans and radios blaring Blondie, Cheap Trick, The Commodores, The Knack and other artists who ruled the airwaves in the late 1970s.
But what it captures best of all is the pure rush of adrenalized entertainment that a movie can provide, as the plucky teens find themselves swept into an ultimately uplifting adventure beyond their wildest movie-making dreams.
And, by the way, they even finish their zombie project. Stay for the credits and you’ll see it in its glorious, three-minute entirety.