Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment? Check. J J Abrams and Bad Robot Productions? Check. Science fiction meets zombie thriller? Check. Good fun? Check. Intelligent? Umm...
J J Abrams is the man who gave us the LOST series, and then made Star Trek popular all over again. He also directed Mission Impossible III
, and is known for his passion for conspiracy theories (refer to LOST). So when he joined hands with the E.T. creator, Steven Spielberg, the world waited with bated breath to see what they would come up with.
And Super 8 does not disappoint, at least, not in the aspects that you expect to be great. In a 1970s Ohio steel town, Joe (Joel Courtney) has just lost his mother, and his father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), is having a tough time living alone with his son. Life goes on, however, and there are important projects to finish - like the zombie movie that Joe's best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) is filming in Super 8 format. (Trivia - Abrams was a Super 8 fanatic as a teenager, and that is how he first met with Spielberg, who wanted some of his Super 8 films restored.)
Joe is the make-up guy, sound guy and special effects guy, and therefore an integral part of the team of young teens who are involved in Charles' movie. When Charles casts Alice (Elle Fanning), who Joe has a crush on, things promise to get exciting.
One day, while the team is filming at a at a railway station, a train is passing by when a pickup truck deliberately drives headlong into the oncoming train and a massive accident occurs. As the kids flee, the camera keeps filming the sequence of events.
The story is a thriller, with science fiction and conspiracy theories incorporated into it. The movie is a tribute to not just popular old sci-fis, such as The Day The Earth Stood Still, but also to zombie movies such as Dawn Of The Dead and Planet Terror. The concept of a quintessential quiet American small town exposed to extraordinary events has been dealt with before, true, but Abrams adds nuances that fill Super 8 with moments that make you go 'Ooh!'.
And then there are the visual effects. The train-accident sequence has to be, by far, one of the most superior examples of a portrayal of disaster. The production design is subtle, and the only 70s stereotype is the long-haired teenager who runs the film processing store. If you watch carefully, you will notice a few allusions to Spielberg's earlier films, and also to works of Abrams, especially LOST.
However, the best part of the film is the Super 8 movie that the youngsters are shooting. With typical indifference to the bizarre drama that unfolds around them, the kids use the train wreck and army trucks as backdrops for their movie, with a seriousness that would put a professional to shame.
The young actors are convincingly and naturally talented. Elle Fanning is a pro, and will soon be competition for elder sister Dakota. She is perfect for the role of the wistful young girl from a broken home. Joel Courtney is a treat to watch, as he portrays sorrow, melancholy, joy and camaraderie. The friendship between their characters develops under unusual circumstances, but they bond instantly.
The scene-stealers are Riley Griffiths as the bullying leader of the group and Ryan Lee as the pyromaniac. Look out for the scene where Charles tells Joe that he is not upset with the former because he refused to let his toy train be blown up for the movie, but because Joe has never considered that Charles may have a thing for Alice himself.
Spielberg and Abrams wanted to tell a story of kids making a film and the consequent adventures. They also hope that youngsters will be inspired to come up with ideas and make their own movies, with friends. The only bummer in this otherwise fascinating movie is the ending - a little too convenient and a no-brainer.
Watch this movie for a nostalgic trip to the days when kids loved to go out of the house and indulge in some outdoor activity or the other. And yes, you have
to watch the end credits - for The Case, the complete short film by Joe, Charles and his friends.