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Film review: Super 8 from Built for Speed

Film review: Super 8, from Built 4 Speed

Although the film is directed by JJ Abrahams, Super 8 has Executive Producer Stephen Spielberg’s fingerprints all over it.  It’s almost like a Spielberg meta-movie mixing aspects of ET, Close Encounters, Jaws and Jurassic Park with typical Spielberg obsessions such as geeky adolescent out-casts, small town communities and filmmaking itself. 

Newcomer Joel Courtney plays 14-year-old Joe, a connoisseur of all things nerd: monster movies, model trains and Wookie masks.  Trying to cope with his Mother’s recent death and his cop Father (Kyle Chandler’s) emotional distance, he leaps into the making a super 8 zombie movie with his oddball friends.  While filming one night they witness an horrific train crash and soon they and their Ohio town discover that the train was concealing a deadly secret.  The producers have gone to great lengths thus far to avoid revealing what’s in the train and I won’t drop any spoilers but suffice to say I don’t think the big reveal is a gob-smacking surprise.

For what is essentially a sci-fi action flick, Super 8 unspools at a surprisingly restrained pace with a fair bit of contemplation between the action set pieces. Still, these set pieces, particularly the train crash, are absolutely spectacular.  One issue during our preview, however, was the sound, which was quite hollow and seemed to need some more post-production tweaking; hopefully this was a minor glitch on the night.

While an emphasis on character development is always admirable in any film, Super 8 spends too much time establishing superfluous emotional baggage for the characters which in turn sets up a very cheesy finale.  There is also too much emphasis on the Goonies-style gang of amateur film-makers who are amusing but not strong enough characters to carry a film. The exception is Elle Fanning (Dakota’s younger sister) who brings gravity to her role as the melancholic daughter of the town deadbeat and as young Joe’s love interest.

Set in 1979, the film makes good use of the period with some superb songs from the era and gags about startling new technology such as the Walkman.  Fortunately, though, it doesn’t go overboard with retro-kitsch.

Super 8 is mostly good fun, occasionally thrilling but not a game changer like the films that inspired it.

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