Even Steven Spielberg would have a hard time making a movie which resembles one of his own creature features as much as Super 8 does. This reverential homage was directed by J.J. Abrams, a protégé who unabashedly laced the derivative production with a profusion of allusions to Close Encounters of Third Kind, E.T., Jaws, Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds, The Goonies and other offerings by his legendary mentor.
Among the myriad motifs revisited are such trademark, Spielberg plot points as an attempted, official cover-up of a burgeoning mystery, adolescents estranged from their parents, and an anthropomorphic extra terrestrial. And many of his favorite technical devices are resurrected as well, like the employment of lens flares, foreboding flashlights and disorienting camera angles as stylistic flourishes.
Luckily, because the edge-of-the-seat thriller also happens to be absolutely absorbing from beginning to end, the viewer doesn't really have the luxury of pausing to debate whether J.J.'s borrowing of ideas amounts to a rip-off or a tribute. Another plus is the convincing chemistry generated among the gifted ensemble of mostly-unknown actors assembled to execute the well-developed, character-driven script.
The story is set during the summer of '79 in Lillian, Ohio, a generic Midwestern metropolis ostensibly fashioned from the Hollywood template for small town America. Protagonist Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is still mourning the death of his mom who perished in an industrial accident just a few months earlier.
He resists the pressure being exerted by his Deputy Sheriff father (Kyle Chandler) to attend baseball camp. Joe prefers to stick around to help his pal Charles (Riley Griffiths) finish shooting a zombie flick called "the Case" on Super 8. The rest of the motley movie crew is rounded out by awkward Preston (Zach Mills), equally-geeky Martin (Gabriel Basso), pyromaniac Carey (Ryan Lee) and tomboy Alice (Elle Fanning), a beauty about to blossom right before the boys' eyes.
The plot thickens when a passing freight train derails while they're filming a love scene on the local station platform. As the children barely escape the conflagration with their lives, Charles inadvertently manages to capture some critical evidence with his camera.
Meanwhile, the citizenry is left rattled not only by the incident but by the bizarre occurrences which begin to plague their once-idyllic oasis. Soon, the military descends upon the town led by a conniving Air Force Colonel (Noah Emmerich) who eventually issues an evacuation order. That leaves it up to our resourceful youngsters to summon up the courage to save the day, which is a cinch, when you're dealing with classic Spielberg shenanigans. Or should I say Abrams?
J.J.'s Close Encounter with E.T., Gremlins, Jaws and Jurassic Goonies!
It's all in there.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, drug use and intense violence.
Running time: 112 Minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
To see a trailer for Super 8, visit: