The Herald Bulletin

June 9, 2011

'Super 8' packs retro punch

By Heather Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

— After more than a year of secrecy and hype surrounding “Super 8,” rest assured it was well worth the wait for this nostalgic Spielbergian blockbuster.

BACKGROUND: ”Super 8” is the third feature film for director J.J. Abrams, the creator of “Fringe,“ “Felicity” and “Alias” who also has 26 producer and 20 writing credits on his resume. In 2006, Abrams made his directorial debut  with “Mission: Impossible III.” The film underwhelmed at the box office as public sentiment turned against actor Tom Cruise but was well received enough to earn Abrams a shot at an even bigger franchise. In 2009, he reinvented “Star Trek,” making the franchise sleek and cool for the first time. Last summer, word came that before Abrams worked on a sequel to  “Star Trek” he’d be writing and directing a film of his own making, one named after a type of film once used to record motion pictures.

SYNOPSIS: In the summer of 1979, a group of young friends works to complete a zombie movie for a student film contest. During the filming of a critical scene at a train station, the friends watch in horror as a train derails, nearly killing them in the fiery fallout. As it becomes apparent that the derailment was no accident, the military arrives to oversee cleanup and the young friends’ town is beset by strange occurrences and disappearances. The kids begin to investigate but soon learn the truth is more terrifying than they ever could have imagined.

THE GOOD,THE BAD AND THE UGLY: “Super 8” is truly a trip back to the 1980s when Steven Spielberg was making the films that shaped a generation. From the clothing to the music to the lens flares, “Super 8” is a throwback but not a throwaway.

Many will compare Abrams’ effort to Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” There is a lot of “E.T.” here, and the closing scene is most certainly a direct homage.

But perhaps a more apt comparison is to “Goonies.”

A fantastic adventure was a key plot device  in “Goonies,” but at its core the film was about the relationships among the group of friends.

The same is true in “Super 8.” While there is a thriller exploding around the band of friends, the true story centers on relationships, both present and past.

The young cast is the surprise of the film, at the same time being and playing kids. Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota Fanning, shines brightest. Talent definitely runs in this family … and some might say it is strongest in its youngest member.

The adult roles are really secondary, but Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard show why they are favorites among avid movie and TV fans. Though both characters have faults, Chandler and Eldard make sure they are never unsympathetic.

Special effects, especially in IMAX viewing, are exciting and not distracting, which is important in a movie relying on a nostalgic tone.

THE FINAL SCORE: Amidst the typical summer blockbuster special effects and frequent explosions, “Super 8” offers a tender story of love, loss and letting go. It’s a return to the classic filmmaking that started a generation’s love affair with the movies.

EXTRAS: Stay through the credits to see the finished version of the kids’ film. And keep a sharp eye out for Slusho, a drink that appears in just about everything Abrams does.

"Super 8" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 112 minutes.