Super 8

Super8

Last night, Malcy and I went to see ‘Captain America’ at the Derby Showcase Deluxe but it turned out to be in The Director’s Lounge. Not wishing to pay a million billion trillion quid for film tickets, we opted for ‘Super 8’ instead.

Serendipity squared.

I’d known about the film from trailers, it looked cute: kids running about shooting zombie films when *blammo* something strange starts happening. I was intrigued but it wasn’t top of my list to see.

Just shows how wrong one can be. And also how trailers sometimes totally undersell a film.

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From the beginning to the end of ‘Super 8’ I was hooked. When I wasn’t hiding behind my hands at the scary bits, I was grinning like a loon or sighing at the memories of my first love this film provoked.

I’ve seen all the blockbusters this summer: ‘X-Men: First Class,’ ‘Transformers 3,’ ‘Green Lantern,’ ‘Harry Potter DH2,’ and I think I can honestly say this has been the most disappointing year for cineplex films in a good while. From the merely meh like HP and ‘X-Men’ to the turbid, squat cankers of ‘Transformers’ and ‘Green Lantern,’ 2011 hasn’t delivered on the popcorn film front.

Then, with one fell swoop, ‘Super 8’ saved the day and my cinematic summer!

I’m not going to do any spoilers in this review because one of the reasons I loved the film so is that I really didn’t know what to expect. What was the strangeness? Was it aliens? Zombies? Escaped killer army robot? So, please, do yourself a favour and go in similarly un-prepared and the film will reward you so much more.

What I can tell you is that the film is set in 1979 and that the lead character, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is 13. (Which is spooky because that’s how old I was in ’79. This immediately brought a huge set of added resonances for me. Also, if they got anything wrong about that time, I’d stick out for me by a mile. It was all faultless.)

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Aaanyway, Joe and his group of mates are shooting zombie films on super 8mm cameras when there’s a huge explosion on a train track next to where they’re filming. After that, things in town start drifting into weirdville: animals run off, people disappear. And what the hell is up with the Air Force, snooping around?

So, a great, hooky premise. But the film would have died if the actors cast as the kids had, in any way, been unconvincing. Thankfully, not only are they convincing, they are magnificent. Under J.J. Abram’s deft, Spielbergesque (well, he is the producer) direction, the kids deliver the best performances I’ve seen so far this year. Not just compared to other kids, compared to adult actors.

The blossoming attraction Alice Dainard feels for Joe could have been syrupy dreck but Elle Fanning, who plays her, made it sweet and believable. And there’s no room to hide in this pic behind a CGI mask or a massive robot, Abrams is in there, SUPERCLOSEUP, on these kids’ faces all the time.

Abrams manages to pull off the same trick that Spielberg mastered in E.T.: we see the film from the kids’ perspective in that he makes us kids again. From family mealtime warzone to skeezy older guys perving on sisters, we’re with them, we are them. The corollary of this is that the adult world is seen through that prism, all distant parents and blundering, grown-up stupidity. Abrams’ lightness of direction never lets that veer into emotionally unrealistic Famous Five territory, the narrative lets the kids remain centre-stage in a very un-staged way.

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Woah – and the ending! I don’t think it’s giving too much to say that the ending piles spectacle upon spectacle but, unlike ‘Green Lantern’ and the other braindead 2011 blockbusters, the mayhem is grounded in the reaction of the kids. So, and I hope you’re listening, Michael Bay, IT MEANS SOMETHING! I really didn’t give a toss about Shia and the Fox replacement, I did care about these kids, my heart was jumping into my throat. I was cheering them on, I felt part of their gang.

That’s all I can really say about ‘Super 8’ without getting into super spoilers. I only saw it by accident but what a lucky night that was for me. I know as soon as it’s out on Blu-ray, I’ll be buying it because this is a film I’ll watch again and again. I’d put it up there with ‘Stand By Me,’ ‘Explorers’ or ‘Monsters’ in terms of how it connected to me.

Thank you, ‘Super 8’ team for making such a beautiful film! 🙂