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AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Francois Duhamel
In this film publicity image released by Paramount Pictures, from left, Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee, Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths are shown in a scene from “Super 8.”

1970’s production style works for ‘Super 8’

Posted: June 16, 2011 - 9:37am

“Super 8”
Amblin Entertainment
1 hour, 52 minutes

J.J. Abrams is one of those names that gets tossed around Hollywood with an almost audible “ka-ching!” about it. The man is golden and people want to work with him. It was a little surprising, then, when I found out that this week’s small-town 70’s sci-fi flick is actually only the third film he’s directed. So who is this guy? What’s he done that makes him so famous? Short answer: everything.

Abrams, best known as the man who gave us “Lost,” is a kind of cinematic jack-of-all-trades power-player. Equally at home in the producer’s chair, composing scores, or in front of a typewriter, Abrams credits on IMDB (that’s the Internet Movie Database for the uninitiated) are varied and include a writing credit for “Armageddon,” as well as going all the way back to 1991’s “Regarding Henry,” a movie he produced when he was only 25. Abrams is relatively young, only 45, but that doesn’t keep this week’s entry into his oeuvre from being unabashedly nostaligic.

Joe Lamb is a kid adrift. With the recent accidental death of his mother looming large in his mind, he welcomes the opportunity for distraction by assisting his friend Charles with a film he’s shooting on his Super-8 camera for a Cleveland film festival. The two gather a few others, including Alice, the daughter of a local drunk with a dark secret, and set about shooting a low-budget zombie horror movie. But on a night shoot out by the train tracks, the kids get more than they bargained for. After witnessing a horrific train crash, they discover a terrifying mystery that will change them and their town forever.

Abrams’ co-producer on this film is Steven Spielberg, and the film bears more than a passing resemblance to Spielberg films from just about this time, including “Jaws,” “E.T.,” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” That “Super 8” isn’t as good as any of those films is less a comment on the recent film and more an admittance that Spielberg created at least three amazing classics in very short order. Abrams has stated that the film is a love-letter, of sorts, to his own childhood, a time when he was making just these sorts of Super-8 films in his backyard and around the neighborhood. However, it would have been the early films of Steven Spielberg that inspired young Abrams and his friends, so it’s easy to see “Super 8” as an homage to Spielberg as well as a simple look back.

I, being a child of the 70s and 80s myself, very much enjoy this kind of film and so the nostalgia and the slower paced style worked for me. I guess that style may not be for everyone, but I can’t imagine why not. All the while telling a compelling story, the film allows the time necessary for you to get to know the characters.

If you hadn’t guessed from the trailers, “Super 8” is a monster movie, which is about all I can say without giving too much away. That said, the surprise and the larger special effect elements of the film are the weakest part. Not bad, by any means, but weaker than the depiction of the town, the 1970s production values of the film, and most importantly, the relationships between the young cast of characters. The kids are really the best parts of the movie, implying a burgeoning crop of young super-stars to come. By the time the movie finally reveals the monster, I found myself wishing for more of the fake stuff the kids were shooting.

Though not a superb movie, “Super 8” is another successful, solid product from a guy who’s become known for solid, successful products. Not as good as the new “Star Trek,” but a little better than “Mission Impossible 3,” “Super 8” delivers thrills, chills, and some real heart. It proves that Abrams is on the right track and may one day be as respected and successful as his mentor.

When the worst thing you can say about a film is that it isn’t the most spectacular thing you’ve ever seen, then I guess you don’t have much to complain about.

Grade: B+

“Super 8” is rated PG-13 for creature violence, sci-fi scares, and mild language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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