Welcome back readers of Robbins Realm. I hope you all had a very pleasant and enjoyable 4th of July weekend.
My family moved to the Oyster Bay, East Norwich section of Long Island in the late 1970s, when I was just a little over two years of age and that is where I grew up, attended school, and lived until moving away when I was a young adult. I mention this because the area, although just a short drive, or train ride, from Manhattan, had the feel of a small town, not unlike the town portrayed in the movie that is the subject of this blog. The majority of my memories from that time period are good ones that pertain to fun or interesting reminiscences that involve my parents, relatives, friends, and the historically important Hamlet of Oyster Bay itself. The town (actually its correct designation is “Hamlet of Oyster Bay,” which is a separate entity in the much larger “Town of Oyster Bay”) was home to the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, who built his house named “Sagamore Hill” there, which received a great deal of international attention during Roosevelt’s time in office because it was used as the Summer White House. T.R., as he is referred to by those who live in the area, had his office in the little hamlet, right on Main Street. Leaving historical facts aside, while I’ll reiterate that my childhood overall was a pleasant one, I always wished I could get caught up in the extreme coolness of a Steven Spielberg type movie adventure. After watching Super 8, I felt it is likely that writer and director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) did as well. The youth infused science fiction film pays homage, in a patchwork manner, to a number of films that Spielberg directed in the earlier part of his career, such as: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and later films like War of the Worlds.
The film is set in 1979 in a small fictional town called Lillian in Ohio. Joe Lamb is a pre-teen, played by actor Joel Courtney in his screen debut, who is dealing with the recent death of his mother. Much to the chagrin of his father, television’s Kyle Chandler, (Friday Night Lights) who convincingly portrays Sheriff’s Deputy Jackson Lamb, Joe is dealing with the loss of his mother by participating in a film being shot by his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths). The film being shot is a horror movie about zombies run amuck, and is being shot on a Super 8 camera for entry into a film festival. Not only is Joe taking part in the film, but so are Charles’s other friends as well, including, to everyone of the all boy group of friends’ surprise, Alice Dainard, a pretty girl who both Joe and Charles have a crush on. In this blogger’s opinion, while the boys in the film are impressive in their respective roles, it is Elle Fanning, the younger sister of actress Dakota Fanning (The Runaways), who delivers the best performance amongst the members of the youthful cast.
During an evening shoot, after Alice delivers her lines with heartfelt emotion, the young gang of misfit friends are interrupted by the derailment of a train. The train crash is a nightmarish one, which provides a few minutes of heart pounding excitement. During the chaos, the viewer is treated to a glimpse of a creature that is set free due to the crash. Abrams opted not to keep with the current trend in cinema and go into a full blown action film from that moment on; instead the film takes its time to build. Strange occurrences begin to take place; both people and animals go missing, the electricity goes haywire, and the military is on the hunt for something they desperately want. Primarily, however, we get well crafted character development and an exploration of the movie’s themes, which Abrams blends effortlessly with the ‘creature-at-large’ element of the story, but he does so in a manner that avoids being overbearing.
Abrams, of course, in fairness to those of you who might not know this, had Spielberg serve as his producer on the film, which in this blogger’s opinion is of vital importance for the following reason: Super 8, when broken down to its cinematic essence, is an emotional heart tugging film that is camouflaged as a child friendly summer blockbuster. Spielberg is the supreme master of crafting films of that nature, and while I absolutely respect J.J. Abrams’ creative abilities, it didn’t hurt to have Spielberg on board because in this blogger’s opinion the filmmaker sure hit the mark.
The 112 minute summertime film is everything a fan of a big time blockbuster could hope for. There are wonderful homages paid to nostalgia, moments of pulse pounding action, excellent character development, and only glimpses of the mysterious creature that escapes due to the train crash, up until the end, when its full form is finally revealed. Super 8, which is playing in theaters nationwide, was made for an estimated budget of $50,000,000, but you can go see it for approximately $10, and it will be worth every penny.