Super 8

JJ Abrams' homage to all things Spielberg is 'touching and convincing'

With Super 8, the creator of Lost, Alias and Cloverfield, JJ Abrams, has delivered his finest work to date. A cornucopia of bicycles, aliens, suburbia, absent fathers and lost boys trying to find their way in the world, the film is a wonderful homage to the best of Steven Spielberg.

And he does it by taking us back to a time when Spielberg really was at his best – the summer of 1979, two years after the ‘Berg had released one of his very best films, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Like Spielberg did back then, Abrams uses the arrival of aliens – or simply an alien – to examine the effect such an event has on people in the suburbs.

The people in question include a group of youngsters who enjoy making movies: including Joe (an earnest and likeable Joel Courtney), Alice (Elle Fanning) and Charles (Riley Griffiths). A train crash unexpectedly interrupts the shooting of their latest Super 8 project (hence the title) but, as they are to find out themselves at the site of the explosion, this is no ordinary train crash.

What happens from this point onwards, as in Close Encounters and E.T., is a series of events that affect not just the youngsters but their families and the whole community. And, as was the case in those aforementioned movies, the military get involved – with expectedly contentious and dramatic results.

Super 8 carries the JJ Abrams trademark. That is to say, it’s both well paced and well cast, with a strong sense of fun. Maybe it’s not too innovative, but this isn’t really a hindrance. Even if Mission: Impossible III, was a little too Alias for one’s liking, he showed that he had potential to become a good feature director back then. And it’s been fulfilled now.

By wisely using Cloverfield and Spielberg’s Jaws as templates, Abrams is able to up the fear and suspense quotient. Additionally, he has a much better grasp of love stories than his idol. The connection that Joe and Alice form during the movie is both touching and convincing.

The 1970s period detail is captured very well, without drawing attention to itself. Unfortunately Abrams’ overuse of his trademark 'lens flares' is all too noticeable, but he makes up for this with his mastering of the unexpected shocks and visceral thrills that his idol mastered many years ago.

Mix these shocking moments with the theme of misunderstood, alienated protagonists, and you really do have the perfect Spielberg homage. And even though it flirts uncomfortably with War of the Worlds territory sometimes, it never threatens to sink into it.

One other thing about Abrams is that, for all his unoriginality he is refreshingly unpretentious. This is why I prefer films like Super 8 to, say, Inception – films like the latter try so hard to be perfect that they lose their soul.

Super 8 beautifully recaptures the cult of childhood and visual awe of Spielberg without the overbearing John Williams music. Watching the film is like watching Spielberg when he really had a heart. It’s hard to imagine Abrams ever topping it. One final word of warning: it’s worth your while to stay through the credits. It really is.

Super 8 is on general release now.

Topics