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Itís difficult to decide which of the many Steven Spielberg productions Super 8 most reminds one of.  There are so many dťjŗ vu moments over the filmís 112-minute run; viewers might wonder if there are any left out?  Maybe not The Colour Purple, Schindlerís List or Munich, but surely everything else is here including Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T., Jurassic Park and Spielberg satellites like The Goonies, Poltergeist and Gremlins, making for a summer movie thatís made up of parts of some of the best summer movies ever made.

Itís 1979 and a young boy from an Ohio steel town mourns the shocking death of his beloved mother and frets for the life heíll have with his distant dad.  Joeís only respite from misery are his exactingly-rendered model kits and his work on a palís amateur zombie movie.  In the generation before Iphones, Ipads and every other I-thing, the mediums of the age are home movie cameras and reels of Super 8 film.  Joe and his pack of geeky school pals approach their calling with utter seriousness, casting Alice, the local teen Venus in a role that was conjured the instant she said yes and employing every serendipitously-placed exciting backdrop they chance upon.  While shooting at the townís train station, the guerilla filmmakers get footage any Hollywood studio would kill for -- and some military agents, too.  A pick-up truck goes all Kamikaze into the front of a speeding train, setting off a cataclysm of Spielbergian proportions.  The domino-effect explosions, flaming cars and debris flying everywhere would be great to film if the kids werenít running for their lives.  Once the immediate terror has passed, young Joeís ears are tuned to a loud thumping coming from one of the cars; a curiosity that gets lost in all the excitement of trying to find his pals and fleeing the scene of their illicit night shoot.  In the following days, Joeís humdrum little town gets a lot weirder.  All the neighbourhood dogs have flown the coop, electricity flickers on and off at will, copper power lines vanish, leaving homes in the dark and thatís not the only thing disappearing.  Joeís dad, Jackson, the town deputy, finds himself the figure everyone is looking to in their panic as his sheriff and several residents have gone missing.  Jackson isnít particularly comfortable with the overbearing presence of a tight-lipped Air Force obviously looking for something, but wonít share what.  Itís okay, Joe and his pals are figuring it out and when that secret is revealed, itís far beyond anything even their most cinematic imaginations could ever dream up.

While no one is going to be particularly surprised by Super 8, itís a lot of fun.  As I mentioned, itís all terribly familiar; punctiliously following the Spielberg textbook to the point of blurring the lines of homage.  We have the young son suffering the loss of a parent, general daddy issues, frightened children, mysterious happenings in the midst of a small town, sweeping panoramas of said bucolic existence, all sort of seventies-favoured fish-eye camera lens fun, and a scary monster that isnít revealed until the last act.  Joeís deputy dad is the late Roy Scheiderís Sheriff Brody-lite; the man no one believes in, but is forced to play hero.  After the train wreck, Joe and his friends run from a flashlight-wielding military team and spend much of the film bicycling furiously away from danger, just like in E.T.  Lights going on and off and strange things happening in suburban homes canít help but recall Poltergeist.  The group of chatty nerds off on a perilous adventure they canít tell the adults about tries to bring back the camaraderie of The Goonies, but thereís not a Ke Huy Quan in the bunch, nor is Joel Courtney, cute though he may be, engaging enough to fill Sean Astinís denim jacket or Henry Thomasí red hoodie.  Alice, the femme fatale of the piece is played by Elle Fanning, whose smoky eyes, flaxen locks and killer zombie imitation practically forces Joeís voice to change overnight.  There are some bonafide thrills in Super 8, like the train crash that never ends and the unexpected extraction of an Air Force team from a transport vehicle.  Itís certainly enough to validate the price of a ticket to see it onscreen, but with few exceptions, those chases, crashes and frights arenít particularly memorable.  Neither, I predict, is Super 8ís creature; a hybrid of a bat, a Predator and the whatever it was from the Abramsí-produced Cloverfield going into the annals of great Hollywood monsters, like the ones in Joeís model kits.  You want scary, unforgettable creatures; watch Bruce the shark in Jaws next time itís on cable: Made on a far more primitive scale and costing a lot less than the CGI thingy here, that rubber fishie single-handedly killed seaside tourist trade worldwide that year.  You want cute, clever youngsters joining together against a common foe, go rent The Goonies, the kids are better actors and the theme songís fabulous.  Or if you prefer the cute kids with alien combo, thereís the box office phenomenon called E.T.  Any of these choices are imminently more standout than the proceedings here, but it is a high bar to reach.  It does speak volumes that the audience seemed to be more entertained by the kidsí completed zombie short running alongside the end credits than most of what occurred during the actual film.  Thereís not an awful lot thatís memorable or original about Super 8, but as empty summer blockbusters go, itís a good one and youíll have a fun time while youíre there.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 10th, 2011


 

PS: Fun for the sticklers - The Rubikís cube referenced by one of the kids wasnít patented in the US until 1980 and weíre walking a fine line with Sony Walkman availability. Details, details.

 

 

 

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(Courtesy of  Paramount Pictures)

 

 

 

 

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