Super 8, steeped in nostalgia, owes rather a large debt to the films of its producer Steven Spielberg. Through this rather clear association, in which director and screenwriter JJ Abrams’ clearly borrows rather heavily from Spielberg’s back catalogue, Super 8 felt greatly reminiscent of the films of my childhood – purely because it was Spielberg’s films that comprised my early childhood film viewing. Cynics may use this to point to a lack of inspiration on Abrams’ part, but for me, this homage should be viewed positively, rather than used to any detriment.
After his mother dies, the young Joe (Joel Courtney), left with his largely absent Deputy Sheriff father Jackson (Kyle Chandler), immerses himself in contributing to his friend Charles’s (Riley Griffiths) directorial aspirations. Charles manages to persuade object of local affection Alice (Elle Fanning) to join his cast, comprised of Joe and Charles’s group of friends, to help him film a zombie film on Super 8 film.
Filming late at night alongside a train-line, hoping to capture a passing train to add ‘production value’, the group witness a horrific train crash, seemingly caused by their biology teacher Dr. Woodward. Woodward warns them not to discuss what they have witnessed or their lives, as well as their lives of their parents, will be risked.
Following the train crash, electrical items begin to disappear and dogs thought to have run away are discovered in different counties. Military Personnel arrive, hoping to contain the scene they refuse to discuss with Deputy Sheriff Jackson what exactly is taking place, despite his persistence.
It is here that the film, whilst entertaining, arguably loses its narrative grip: Abrams’ set-up, of a group of teenagers attempting to film a monster movie, could have sustained the plot in its own right. The interaction between the friends and the gentle romantic interest easily charms its audience, with the narrative needing little else to engage its audience.
Abrams’ decision to introduce a sci-fi element not only takes its influence from the films of Spielberg, but also feels rather typical of Abrams. Arguably, Super 8 not only lends heavily from the aforementioned Spielberg, but also rather too easily falls in line with Abrams’ familiar territory, perhaps explaining the all-too-apparent lack of any inspirations.
That is not to say that Super 8 is a poor film, far from it, but this lack of originality quickly feels lacklustre. The cast, especially the excellent Elle Fanning, are all wonderful, believable and fully capable of creating genuine empathy. In order for Super 8 to be truly enjoyed, it should be viewed as a thoroughly nostalgic effort; as soon as creative questions are addressed, arguably the film could not exist without the back catalogue of its producer, the film quickly loses its appeal. Forgoing close scrunity, Super 8 is an enjoyable film, and a fairly worthy addition to this year’s summer efforts.