Steven Spielberg is one of the most successful directors of all time. He is famous for co-creating the summer blockbuster with George Lucas and has a string of successful commercial and critical hits. JJ Abrams is currently in the process of becoming one of the newest generation of film-makers to follow in Spielberg’s footsteps, having had good success with Cloverfield, Star Trek and TV shows like Lost and Alias. Their latest collaboration, Super 8, is a nostalgia-filled blockbuster with elements of their most successful films thrown together and set in the late-1970s, an important period for both men.
It’s 1979 and Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his group of friends from a small town in Ohio are trying to make a zombie film to enter into a competition on their parents super 8 camera. During filming of a pivotal scene starring Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) an air force train is derailed by a man in a pick-up truck and something escapes from one of the carriages. The group then set-about piecing together clues on the origin of the creature whilst the military close down and evacuated the town.
The first thing to mention is that the setting of the late 1970s gives the film a wonderful nostalgic feeling. Both Spielberg and Abrams clearly have heart-warming memories of the era and fill their characters with their thoughts and feelings. It is the greatest strength of the movie that everyone in it feels realistic and engaging and despite the incredible set-piece special effects, the memorable scenes are the ones where the children interact with humour, wit and an incredible naivity, most notably the diner scene.
As with the majority of Spielberg films the casting of the young actors in Super 8 is perfect, with Fanning and Courtney the stand-out performers. In fact, it is hard to see how Fanning won’t go on to have a successful career as her talent shines brighter than the rest and every time she’s on camera, the screen is mesmerised by her emotional range. But let’s remember that this is a summer blockbuster, and Abrams brings his Cloverfield skillset to create the creature at the heart of the action. It’s a shame that there is so much influence from both men, because if they were to have made two films, one about the kid’s adventure and one about the military and monster, it might have worked better. Sadly the film does lose its way a bit toward the end, once the character development is moved aside for the explosions and fights.
Despite the slightly jarring final third, Super 8 manages to leave a smile on your face and like all the classic films it draws inspiration from it’s that feeling that makes you realise you’ve seen a good film. Equal parts ET, The Goonies and Cloverfield, this is a nostalgia-filled throwback film that tugs at the heart-strings without having the necessary knock-out punch to become an all-time great.