With a film calendar full of sequels, prequels and remakes, Super 8 arrives as a pleasant surprise. Granted it's not wholly original – writer-director J.J. Abrams' sci-fi period piece is an unabashed homage to the early works of mentor, Steven Spielberg – but I found it wholly satisfying. I'll take nostalgia over studio colour-by-numbers bean counter filmmaking any day.
Set in 1979, a couple of years after Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a few years before E.T., Super 8 deliberately but not clumsily evokes both those and other Spielberg films (including Jurassic Park and Jaws), from the blue tinged lighting and the elongated pull-focus shots (I'm sure there are technical terms for these but I confess my ignorance) to the elements of his story.
In small town America, a group of school students – writer-director, Charles (Riley Griffiths), best friend and make-up artist, Joe (Joel Courtney), leading man, Martin (Gabriel Basso), and fireworks expert, Cary (Ryan Lee) – plan to spend their summer vacation shooting a zombie movie.
Much to Joe's delight, they're joined by Alice (the increasingly impressive Elle Fanning), but on their first night shoot on the outskirts of town, the crew are witness to a spectacular train crash, which is no accident, setting in motion a series of peculiar events and a summer these kids won't soon forget.
The marketing campaign for Super 8 has been at pains to reveal as little as possible about what follows that crash (a lesson other studios should heed), and while some reviews have revealed the contents of the train's cargo I won't, suffice it to say that it's here where the film's sci-fi elements kick in. But thankfully, it doesn't overwhelm the human element.
Abrams elicits excellent performances from his young cast, with Courtney's Joe making for a relatable hero (having lost his mum at film's beginning and struggling to connect with policeman dad, played by Kyle Chandler), and Fanning's Alice more than worthy of his admiration. The other three boys – the boisterous Charles, vomitous Martin, and pyromaniac Cary – are wonderful comic foils. And make sure you stay through the end credits to witness The Case, the zombie film they eventually put together.
And you can easily imagine the young Abrams putting together his own super 8 movie, enthused with the thrill and joy of filmmaking. That same boyhood zeal comes through Super 8 and you'll be hard pressed not to fall under its spell. I suggest you just go with it, it's mint.