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Review: JJ Abrams Super 8

On Friday June 10th JJ Abrams follows up his 2009 Star Trek movie with Super 8. With the help of producer Steven Spielberg, Abrams has returned to his own childhood for a mysterious monster movie, which turns out to be an effective coming-of-age story. Find out more in the TrekMovie.com review. [Some Spoilers Ahead]   

 

Review: JJ Abrams "Super 8"

Back in 2009 director JJ Abrams told me that before he could consider returning to helm another Star Trek movie, he would want to do something different for his third feature – something that wasn’t part of a franchise (like Star Trek and Mission Impossible III). That something else became Super 8, a very personal film for Abrams, who wrote a script set in the 1979 of his own youth which evokes an era and the style of films which were formative for him. In the same interview Abrams also said that "the dream version of any job is to chose the job because you love the job," and that passion can be seen in Super 8, which has been accurately described as a love letter to Steven Spielberg, who Abrams even brought in as a co-producer for Super 8. And according to Spielberg, Super 8 is actually the "first true JJ Abrams movie."

While the story of Super 8 is evocative of Spielberg’s Amblin movies of the late 70s and early 80s, especially Close Encounters, Jaws, E.T. and Goonies, it is also classic Abrams. Super 8 is about a group of kids from a small town in Ohio who, while shooting a zombie movie for a film festival, witness a massive train crash which unleashes a mysterious something trapped in a box car. But of course Abrams, who has famously never opened his childhood ‘Mystery Box,’ spends much of the rest of the film slowly dripping out tidbits of why the train crashed and what exactly was it that escaped from that box car and is causing all sorts of strange occurrences in the town.  


A train crash sets a group of kids on an adventure in "Super 8"

Super 8 is more than just homage to 1970s cinema – it is really a mashup of a sci-fi film, a monster movie, a family drama, a love story, and a coming of age film. In fact, the best parts of the film is the character development and personal story of this group of kids. Like with Star Trek, Super 8 opens very strong with some emotional scenes which set the tone for film’s hero, Joe Lamb (played by first-time actor Joel Courtney). Abrams is very adept at coaxing out excellent performances from the kids who carry the film, especially Lamb, Elle Fanning as Joe’s the love interest Alice Dainard, and Riley Griffiths (also in his first film) who plays Joe’s best friend Charles and the director of the zombie movie which sparks the entire film. And Cary (played by Ryan Lee), adds a lot of fun comic relief for the film, not just by being the ubiquitous goofy kid with braces, but also through his recurring issues with pyromania. 


Abrams working with Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths on "Super 8"

While Super 8 is a JJ Abrams-directed / Steven Spielberg-produced summer genre movie, it shouldn’t be seen expecting a big spectacular visuals-filled tentpole like Star Trek. While ILM are back with Abrams providing excellent effects, especially in the extra-long train crash sequence, at its core Super 8 really is more of a smaller family drama, with a relatively low budget. The payoffs in this film are much more to do with Joe and Alice’s arcs with their fathers (would it be an Abrams project without daddy issues?), then it is about fighting a mysterious monster. The irony is that the monster plot ends up being a bit thin, with some murky sci-fi exposition late in the film and disappointingly two-dimensional bad guys in the form of the Air Force personnel who descend on the small town to try and contain the situation. Star Trek fans will likely come away wanting to know more about the creature at the heart of the mystery, who ends up having a bit of a Borg-like hobby of assimilating technology. But all that really doesn’t matter as the film still works, carried by the kids and their adventures, including a heroic cave rescue evocative of the Mark Twain classic "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."


"Super 8" is best when focused on the families – and not with the scary thing they are staring at

Adding to mix of a quieter film is Abrams own directing style. Yes there are some periodic lens flares, but in Super 8 he mostly eschews shaky cam and frenetic pacing seen in his Lost pilot, Mission: Impossible III and Star Trek. This more subtle approach, helped by cinematographer Larry Fong (Watchmen), is all part of evoking the look of the films of the era.   


The Air Force team in "Super 8" led by Colonel Nelec (Noah Emerich) are your standard "nothing to see here" cardboard cutouts

The nostalgia in Super 8 is thick, without becoming over the top parody. Anyone born in or before the 70s will recognize the world lovingly recreated by Abrams and production designer Martin Whist (Cloverfield). Trekkies "of a certain age" (and lets face it, many of us are) will recognize the slight touches right down to AMC Pacer, Pillsbury Space Food and Mattel Electronic Football. Probably the only "weren’t the late 70s funny" in-your-face reference was a scene with an early Sony Walkman (which may be an anachronism as they probably shouldn’t be around in the US until 1980). This is all effectively enhanced by a soundtrack by Michael Giacchino which is augmented by selections of music from this era between 70s disco and 80s new wave, including songs from Blondie and The Cars.

There really isn’t any story reason why Super 8 is set in 1979 except that is when JJ Abrams was 13 himself. The story could have easily been set today with kids using HD video cameras, but hopefully young audiences will still feel an emotional connection to the kids and enjoy a trip back to their parents childhoods (OMG Dad, how did you live without the Internet?).

In the end Super 8 is an excellent feel-good movie and shows a continued evolution and extension of range for JJ Abrams as a director and storyteller. If you like your summer movies to be long on explosions and short on story, then maybe wait for Transformers: Dark of the Moon (which actually looks pretty good). Super 8 has plenty of thrilling action (and its fair share of explosions), but what makes it work are the characters. So if you want a fun, mysterious, scary adventure with a group of kids you can’t help but root for, then you wont go wrong by seeing this film. Super 8 will make you feel young again.


JJ Abrams is back with "Super 8"

Super 8 opens wide on Friday, June 10. Here are some newly released clips:

 

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Mark
June 9, 2011 10:56 am

wow

StarMan127
June 9, 2011 11:05 am

Saw an interview where JJ Abrams said he’s addicted to lens flares. Every director need his trade mark. Plan to see this this weekend. Should be at least an entertaining diversion. Wonder what direction the next Star Trek will take. At least seeing this film I don’t have to be swamped with super heroes and comic remakes into film. Not that that’s bad….just good to see something different and possibly more entertaining.

Marc B. Lee
June 9, 2011 11:15 am
I saw it this morning. Here’s my non-spoiler review: The casting was perfect and well acted and like many films of our childhood, there’s always one youngster that will be the comedic focal point of the entire picture. SUPER 8 is set in 1979 (year of my high school graduation) in a rural town called Lillian, Ohio. A group of young moviemakers find themselves witnessing the unlikely contest of truck versus freight train. They both lose but the consequences are dire. This movie can easily be compared to E.T. due to the nature of alien meets children. Although that meeting comes way late into the film, the buildup and personal family crisis are at the forefront which leads to a confrontation that is both thrilling and gory. I could have easily given this movie a 9 if only JJ Abrams could finish a movie that leaves you half full at a table of chocolate and twizzlers. He continues to half write a script and it is evident in this movie. SUPER 8 could have been SUPER GREAT if Abrams’ ego steps a bit to the right and allow his memory of what made movies great in the 70′s win out in this current flick. I wasn’t convinced that seeing it in IMAX was necessary either and thank the stars it wasn’t in 3D, a techniq1ue I have grown very weary of. 3D is overrated and unnecessary and dims the overall presentation of a motion picture. I suspect I would have… Read more »
Aurore
June 9, 2011 11:21 am

Apparently, a job well done, Mr. Abrams! Congratulations!

trekker 5
June 9, 2011 11:27 am

#6,Aurore,(I’ll give you a better review than this! :) ) Only jokin’ around,I’m sure this a good review,I’m just not going to read it,I don’t want to know anything before I see the movie myself.

Yob Mosher
June 9, 2011 11:29 am

YAWN! Thanks for the heads up Anthony but I think I’ll pass. A “family drama” isn’t worth the price of admission. I’ll wait for Green Lantern to spend my money on.

June 9, 2011 11:37 am

I think a complete lack of positive roles for mothers is turning into JJ’s trademark more than lens flares are. I’m also glad the only girl in the film is labeled as the “love interest”. I can’t wait for the inevitable scene where she kisses Joe goodbye and stays behind while he runs off to save the day.

This may be JJ’s first original movie, but it doesn’t take much to see how predictable it will all turn out to be.

June 9, 2011 11:38 am

How about JJ Abrams producer and Steven Spielberg director Star Trek the way things are going getting the movie started? But it would be nice if JJ Abrams director could get Steven Spielberg involved in the next Star Trek movie in some way.

June 9, 2011 11:40 am

The amount of sucking up to abrams in this post is making me blush.

Bill Peters
June 9, 2011 11:41 am

actually if you look at the Credits at the end of Star Trek 2009 Steven Spielberg was part of making that movie indrectly.

The TOS Purist aka The Purolator
June 9, 2011 11:47 am

I wish Abrams had “lovingly recreated” TOS as much as you say he “lovingly recreated” the world of the 1970’s (and even the style of filming used in that era), instead of thumbing his nose at the whole thing.

Michael Hall
June 9, 2011 12:00 pm

From this review and the others I’ve read, it’s apparent that SUPER 8 is a very personal film for J.J. Abrams in that it concerns what’s most near-and-dear to him: the films he grew up with, loved, and became a source of inspiration for him. In that sense, it’s less of a film per se than it is a meta-movie about movies.

It’s a truism by now that previous generations of film directors were inspired by events they’d witnessed in their own lives, or subject matter than interested them, while (from the seventies or so onwards) directors draw their inspiration from the work of their predecessors. I don’t think that’s entirely true, and it’s not necessarily fatal to quality filmmaking in any case. I wish Abrams every success with this film, but also wish he had stuck to this sort of thing and left Star Trek to someone truly committed to capturing the essence of what made it so special, rather than just remaking it in his own image.

Dee - lvs moon' surface
June 9, 2011 12:01 pm

I think …. I’ll like it!

:-) :-)

Buzz Cagney
June 9, 2011 12:16 pm

I keep trying to muster the enthusiasm up for this and keep failing. I’m not sure why. I am just a little older than JJ so that time period is very much my time and I love so much of Spielbergs work so i should be excited by it, but i’m not.
Wish I could figure out why :-?

Let Them Eat Plomeek Soup
June 9, 2011 12:30 pm

Going to try and see this movie this weekend. Looks great!

Marc B. Lee
June 9, 2011 12:35 pm

FYI, movie reviews are the opinions of ONE individual. Although they may sometimes help, I have found in my lifetime of movie going, many of these reviewers have been correct on their personal views but incorrect on thinking I might feel the same way. Be a COMMON SENSE THINKER and judge for yourselves.

Simon
June 9, 2011 12:44 pm

#11 – I wish Abrams had thumbed his nose at the 60’s style pajamas TOS had.

#6 – Do you even like STAR TREK (TOS, TNG, DS9, etc)? They are not known for mindless action, and you have to actually *think*.

I will see this movie ASAP. I love a film that actually has believable characters and lets them develop, unlike so much garbage that passes itself off as entertainment these days.

Mattyb
June 9, 2011 1:43 pm

Dam blast and bugger it. Its not out in the UK till August 5th.

Doppelganger
June 9, 2011 1:47 pm

The Colonel is wearing his grade insignia improperly.

Keachick (rose pinenut)
June 9, 2011 1:50 pm

I went to see this movie, partly because the main characters were a group of children. Most of what we see is about adults and many of them can be such boring, up themselves individuals.

At the cinema, I saw the Green Lantern trailer before they screened Super 8. I will be giving that movie a pass.

DavidJ
June 9, 2011 2:29 pm

Frankly I don’t know how any self-respecting scifi fan born during this time period could NOT be dying to see this movie. Unless you don’t like early Spielberg, which just seems bizarre to me.

And putting more of the focus on the characters and family drama, and using the alien and special effects as a backdrop to that, is somehow a BAD thing???

That certainly seemed to work well for Close Encounters.

I swear, I just do not understand my fellow scifi fans sometimes.

Ron
June 9, 2011 2:54 pm

From Deadline.com:

Director JJ Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg have leaked online what appears to be an industrial film that explains the creature. Part of this shows up in Super 8.

http://www.deadline.com/2011/06/super-8-leaks-creature-glimpse/

Punkspocker
June 9, 2011 2:58 pm

Thanks for the review. I was 13 when I saw Raiders in the theatre which sparked a love affair of Speilberg films. I think it’s wonderful that he pass the torch to such a filmmaker as Abrams.

Shannon Nutt
June 9, 2011 3:04 pm

I saw it today and LOVED it. I kept thinking how happy I was that JJ is making features now, because all I could keep thinking was “someone out there CAN still make ’em like they used to”.

Oh, there’s a Kirk and Spock “cameo”…just pay attention when the kids finally look at the 8mm footage they shot.

Yes, JJ still has a thing for lens flares! Although not as intrusive this time as they were in Star Trek (2009).

The soundtrack is fantastic…both the original score and the late 70s tunes JJ has filled the movie with.

Stay for the end credits – and you’ll get to see the “movie within a movie” that the kids were shooting.

NuFan
June 9, 2011 3:37 pm

I’m going saturday. It won’t be as good as Star Trek but it will still be good.

Dee - lvs moon' surface
June 9, 2011 3:45 pm

#22- Ron …

Great… I love seeing an alien eating a researcher… or perhaps trying to… LOL

:-) :-)

Phil
June 9, 2011 3:47 pm

@11. You’re kidding, right?

Keachick (rose pinenut)
June 9, 2011 4:06 pm

#24 Yes. Most people get up straight away when the credits start rolling so they can often miss stuff. Please do not leave straight away, because you will the children’s final cut of the movie they were attempting to make – great stuff…:)

Jack
June 9, 2011 4:51 pm

20. From the trailer GL doesn’t look great, but the nostalgia factor (and maybe a shirtless Ryan Reynolds… and I still like his, er, schtik at this point)

PEB
June 9, 2011 5:01 pm
it’s kinda sad, the amount of hate for jj abrams that seems to be on this website (not from anthony) but from so many of the people who post here (and i know its not everybody). i dont get it. the man didnt destroy star trek. he didnt give you “nemesis” part 2, he didnt give you the rushed out the gate “generations,” he didnt kill off shatner’s kirk, he didnt get nichelle naked and make her do a fan dance that just seemed so…out of left field (no matter how amazing she looked). if you want to complain about spock and uhura in trek09, go back and look at the scotty/uhura “thing” that was in trek 5 and explain THAT to me please. he didnt make data tell horrible jokes making you nervously laugh hoping it would all just stop. he didnt invent the nexus or the son’a, and last i checked, he wasnt the one who castrated the klingons… look, i LOVE star trek. the good and the bad. i watch the films constantly, but some of this hate has got to stop. as i’ve said, you dont have to like the direction the new team has taken with the film series BUT at least give them respect for giving trek more/new fans, and pumping out a fun, visually amazing film that was relevant. it wasnt preachy but it had many messages in it. cant wait to see super 8 and continue watching abrams grow as a director.… Read more »
June 9, 2011 5:46 pm

Sounds so cool! Sorry I can’t read the review since it has spoilers, but I’m more psyched to see it than any film since ST.09!

June 9, 2011 6:21 pm

Green Lantern? Seriously people, that thing looks like ridiculous. Frankly any time a scifi/fantasy movie comes out that isn’t a special effects putrid mess like Transformers or a comic book movie, I’m interested.

I may go see this movie this weekend. I’m interested because it’s period-specific and I love that. I was 1 year old in 1979, but I grew up with the films of that era from Spielberg, so I’m interested to see how JJ did. Lens flares stink, but worse is shaky cam. God please tell me there’s no shaky cam.

Red Dead Ryan
June 9, 2011 7:16 pm

I have to agree with PEB. I just don’t get the hatred some people (Iva, Jeyl) have for J.J Abrams.

7.

You really need to move on! Seriously. Every time you post, you bitch about J.J Abrams’ seeming lack of consideration for the female audience.

Let me remind you of this: Both “Felicity” and “Alias” featured strong female leads. “Lost” featured strong female characters who kicked butt but also maintained their femininity. “Fringe” features a character named Olivia, who is the equal to Peter Bishop. “Star Trek” had great female characters in Uhura, Winona Kirk, and Amanda Greyson.

“Star Trek” was the most popular Trek film among women. J.J Abrams obviously did something right, since for the last thirty years, the female audience had been shrinking. I think J.J Abrams knows what he’s doing, even if you don’t.

9.

J.J Abrams is considered to be one of the best younger directors. He’s right up there with Christopher Nolan. Steven Spielberg, the legendary director, has praised Abrams. As such, I will regard Mr. Spielberg’s opinions of the man over your stupid comments.

SciFiGuy
June 9, 2011 7:28 pm

“Green Lantern? Seriously people, that thing looks like ridiculous.”

Hmmm…looks just like the COMIC BOOK to me!!! ::rolls eyes::

Michael Hall
June 9, 2011 8:11 pm

@ 30, 33

Okay. Let’s put our cards on the table here. Please quote me one person on this thread who has expressed hatred for J.J. Abrams. Not dislike for Trek 2009, or MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III, or this film, or Lost, or any other project the man has been involved with. (No, not even REGARDING HENRY.) Hatred for the man himself, not his works. Just one.

Otherwise, I call bullshit.

Kamdan
June 9, 2011 8:32 pm

My friend saw an advanced screening of it and felt that the Spielberg style and Abrams’ didn’t quite blend and there were plenty of plot holes left at the end. I’ll wait for the video.

Robert H.
June 9, 2011 8:49 pm

So is he ironically going to be the next Spielberg?

June 9, 2011 8:53 pm

Regarding Henry could be rebooted as a Star Trek story. Kirk is phasered in the head and when he regains consciousness he thinks he’s Lt. Uhura and that Lt. Uhura is Captain Kirk. The bridge crew plays along trying gently to bring him back to reality, so Uhura has to sit in the captain’s chair while Kirk occupies the communications station and trails Spock around trying to get some “facetime.”

A montage of shots then depicts a series of occasions where an unconscious Kirk (Vulcan nerve pinch) is transferred from turbolift floor to stretcher.

Alternatively we could do a reboot/mashup of The Enemy Within/Turnabout Intruder where a transporter malfunction merges Kirk and Uhura into a single person called Kirhura. Or Uhurak. (They argue about this).

Half and half straight down the middle. (Imagine the costume).

This has Kirhura/Uhurak running back and forth between the captain’s chair and the comm station. Which is inconvenient, but then Kirk does get answers from Uhura faster than ever, and this turns out to be the decisive advantage that saves the Enterprise from destruction, before Kirk and Uhura are divided back into their natural selves again.

Simon
June 9, 2011 9:59 pm

#36 – So you let your friend make your theatrical choices for you?

Devon
June 9, 2011 10:11 pm

#7 – “I think a complete lack of positive roles for mothers is turning into JJ’s trademark more than lens flares are”

And you’re doing nothing to help that “cause.”

The 76th Distillation of Blue
June 9, 2011 11:10 pm
heres my thoughts on the movie that i posted last night after watching the premiere in westwood, that got burried in in the lensflare thread. Just got home from the premiere screening of Super 8 at the Mann Village errr i mean Regency Village theatre (old habits die hard , to me it will always be the Mann VillageTheatre) in west wood, got a last minute call asking if i wanted to attend from an old co worker. All i can say is this if Star Trek xII is pushed back cause of This sappy love letter to the classic films of Spielberg,Dante, Donner and Howard. I am going to be royally ticked off. Dont get me wrong there are some great performances in there such as Kyle Chandler and Jessica Tuck and the kids are pretty decent. But as a whole the movie comes off as expensive retread mixing The Goonies, with Cocoon, Close encounters, and E.T. and the Explorers with a slight dash of space camp(which just so happend to star Spielbergs wife lol) for good measure.Its almost like JJ takes the best elements of those films and repurposes it into a mishmash of a sci fi coming of age movie. And the biggest problem like always that JJ works hard to try and get you care for these characters, but then provides no really resolution for them in the story come time for the end of the film. Jumping back to influences felt,The biggest influences of Course… Read more »
That One Guy
June 9, 2011 11:35 pm

Just got back from this myself. It’s very Spielberg mixed with JJ. You can tell they both had their fingers in the fondue on this one.

Truly an excellent film. I’m a tad tired, so I’m going to go to bed. But please, go see this. This is going to be one of those word-of-mouth movies that is going to soar. It is this year’s Inception.

lostrod
June 10, 2011 3:12 am

Hmm.

“Star Trek – The Motion Picture” was released in 1979. Too bad they couldn’t have given it a cameo, such as a movie poster in the background.

Maybe they did – I haven’t seen it yet.

Regards.

captain_neill
June 10, 2011 5:28 am

I am not sure about this film, it does look good from the trailer and seems to evoke classic Spielberg. I will be going to see it.

I guess the main kid having a love interest makes me feel a bit sad because it makes me regret some things as it was later on when I got my first relationship.

But I do want to give this film a try, should be a lot better than the upcoming Transformers 3 which I am avoiding like the plague

VZX
June 10, 2011 5:48 am

Ehh…I’ll rent it from Redbox when it comes out on video.

I predict a poor box-office for Super 8. But at least Abrams got his personal movie off his chest …

denny cranium
June 10, 2011 6:19 am

@ #11 TOS purist

If Abrams hadn’t “thumbed his nose” at Trek as you suggest Trek 2009 would have tanked in my opinion.
If JJ had of just catered to the “purists” as you claim to be- Trek may have just become a footnote to 20th century TV and filmmaking.

Shannon Nutt
June 10, 2011 6:57 am

@43 They didn’t – but you’re close…it’s an original crew photo and – oh heck, it’s not really a spolier – it’s the classic crew on the bridge (a familar photo to every Trek fan), but you can only see the right half of the frame.

Bruce Banner
June 10, 2011 7:47 am

Abrams was on Late Night last night, he had a fleet of buses and was taking anyone from the audience to an early showing of Super 8. They had a camara outside showing the fleet of buses, and JJ invited the entire audience to accompany him. This is PR at its best.

Polly
June 10, 2011 9:54 am

I’m defintely going to see this now!

Steve
June 10, 2011 10:13 am

Seems like an any genre website, whenever there’s any mention of anything JJ-related, half of the comments from readers then make the “lens flare” comment. You know, a joke isn’t all that funny after it’s told 20 MILLION times! Just give it a rest already.

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