Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Super 8" review: magical, nostalgic, exciting and even a bit scary

My initially reaction coming out of the theater: Oh...My...God!! That was frickin' AMAZING!!! I am in Spielberg heaven!!

"Super 8" is exactly what we need right now; a throw-back to the days of Steven Spielberg magic! Nicely crafted and tuned right down to the last detail just as his mentor would have done 30 years ago, JJ Abrams perfectly channels a boy's wonder of the unknown that mixes equal doses of "Jaws", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "E.T", "The Goonies" and even "Jurassic Park".

WARNING: there are SPOILERS ahead so if you haven't seen the movie yet, stop reading now!

Joel Courtney, who plays a 13-year-old boy living in a fictional town in Ohio, is wonderfully cast alongside a group of young actors that completely echo the best of Spielberg's late 70's child icons. All Joel wants is to impress the girl he thinks he can't have (Elle Fanning) when an unimaginable event occurs as he and his friends are filming a Super 8 movie at a train station. As a midnight train comes barreling down the tracks, running into a pick-up truck that has intentionally run onto the tracks, we become witness to one of the most jaw-dropping and show stopping train wrecks ever put on film! It literally felt like we were blown out the back of the theater by the time it ended! The sequence is long and incredibly thrilling. You might feel like you need to catch your breath for a moment afterward.

What ultimately comes out of one of the derailed cars is only caught in glimpses throughout most of the movie, brilliantly hinting at what Joel and his friends will come more face to face with than they could have ever imagined. This is where the military steps in, turning the otherwise quiet small town into a bee-hive of fear and unbelievable events. By this point we were completely immersed in the mystery of what was really happening, given very small tidbits of information (the way JJ Abrams likes to dish them out) that would all fit together near the end.

The effects are top notch, the music at times evokes John Williams best and the movie itself feels like some long lost Spielberg gem from back in the day that has finally been unearthed. If you know these movies intimately, you'll discover a whole series of visual goodies to savor and smile broadly about. I was amazed at the level of detail Abrams put into his shots that make up what so many of us recognize as the 'Spielberg look'; the slow dolly and crane shots, the depiction of suburban life, with parents at the dinner table laughingly struggling to reel-in their hyperactive children ("Toby, you are close to death!"), and even details as minute as blue lens flare! No, I'm not talking about Abrams signature lens flare.

Early in the film, as the group of kids head out to a train station to film a scene for their amateur film, headlights and street lights aimed into the camera lens give off a very distinctive blue lens flare. You can see this in a number of mid to late 70's films due to Panavision anamorphic camera lens used at the time. Not necessarily indigenous to a Spielberg film, Abrams has intentionally added this blue lens flare to emulate that precise look which you do see in films like "Close Encounters" and "E.T." An incredibly minor detail I picked up on right away and savored just as much as the tone and feel of the characters and story.

Is there anything new and unexplored in "Super 8"? Not especially...but that's not why we're here. We're here to remember. To laugh and cry and be swept up in the magic and even the scariness of the unknown. The alien creature who is at last revealed late in the film is of incredible design, so very well lit and never over the top or out of place. There was not one moment where I felt like it was a CG creature.

Cast wise, also of note is Kyle Chandler as Joel's father and the town deputy. He's a man of action, emulating Roy Scheider's Sheriff Brody from "Jaws" at times. Ron Eldard as Elle Fanning's father is also quite good and for comedic relief, David Gallagher in a small role as a guy who works at a convenient store who has the hots for Elle Fanning's character and will do anything to impress her.

I fully intend to catch this again a few times over the summer. Remember what it was like to grow up with and fall in love with the classic films of our youth? Speaking to anyone who was between the ages of 10 and 25 in the late 70's and early 80's....go see "Super 8"! You absolutely won't be disappointed!


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