When I first saw the teaser for the 2011 monster-thriller flick Super 8, I was blown away… like Cloverfield blown away. Not much was known about this project, and apparently, the actors were sworn to secrecy. Even when the next trailer was released months later, it was infuriating because the suspense level was amplified, and we still had yet to see a single shred of story. Nevertheless, I was determined to watch this film so that I could find closure. I am glad J.J. Abrams and his team at Bad Robot Productions took drastic steps to keep the secrecy and made a film that, for me forever, stands alongside the legendary movie that is The Sandlot.
Newcomer Joel Courtney leads this film with such enthusiasm and grace as Joseph Lamb. He is a makeup wizard, and he loves to hang out with his friends making movies on their Super 8 camera. He cares about his friends, and this group of young, intrepid, awkward, nerdy preteens loves what they do. These boys might go on to become filmmaking legends one day. For now, his hobby of filmmaking is the saving grace in his life after the tragic death of his mother. He tries his best to move on and let go. His father cares about him but has a hard time expressing it. Both father and son are coping in their own way.
Joe and his friends shoot part of their film near a train station and are nearly killed when the train derails, causing a fiery and cataclysmic crash thanks to a dazed, delirious and confused school teacher. However, Joe and his friends are forced not to turn a blind eye as they investigate the escaped cargo, and the discovery is quite terrifying.
Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights, King Kong, Bloodline) plays Joe’s father. He is the Deputy of this small town and is trying to find out the truth of the “incident” while looking out for his son and holding it together after losing his wife. He and Joe try to understand each other amidst feeling at odds with each other. Their performances perfectly convey how they are trying to heal amid the chaos. In the most dramatic of ironies, the incident was the best thing that needed to happen and, at the same time, could have been avoided. Chandler brought so much life as Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights, and his casting in this is gold. He may come off as just cold, but some great layers are revealed if you are patient.
Elle Fanning (We Bought a Zoo, Maleficent) is as much an acting gem as her sister Dakota. Her smile lights up a room. As Alice, you could assume she is the typical love interest for Joe, but this film tiptoes around that which I like and find refreshing. Behind the carefree attitude, confidence and wit is a girl hiding pain and fear. She learns to face it head-on while also surviving the effects of the incident and dealing with her drunk yet misunderstood father.
After watching the behind-the-scenes featurettes, it is obvious that this film is a love letter to J.J. Abrams’s passion for cinema. The riveting score by Michael Giacchino is cinematic in its own right. I listen to it on repeat if I am having a bad day or just want some inspiration. It’s not hard to see why this ORIGINAL film pays homage to E.T., Stand by Me, The Goonies, and for me, The Sandlot. So many of these stories have the razzle-dazzle, but at the core, you have memorable characters you want to hug and or root for. This is the Stranger Things phenomena before the real thing debut.
I love this film so much. Not a dull moment from start to finish. What a moment for Abrams to be moved by Spielberg’s films, and then you get to work with the master. It was also heartwarming to hear in the bonus content JJ Abrams got to make this film with people he grew up with since childhood. Whatever roles these young kids go on to have or if they left acting, this will be the quintessential film of their lives.
Oh, and staying through the credits is worth it.