Do you love science fiction, monster flicks and – perhaps most significant of all – the movies of Steven Spielberg? If the answer to all of the above is yes, make sure you see Super 8, a terrific adventure from writer/director JJ Abrams (the executive producer of addictive TV shows Fringe and Lost) that is something of a homage to classic 70s and 80s movies like ET: The Extra Terrestrial and The Goonies.
It’s the summer of 1979, and 13-year-old Joe (Courtney) and his pals are making a zombie movie using a Super 8 camera. They’re a motley bunch: Joe (the movie’s make-up man) has a strained relationship with his deputy sheriff dad (Chandler) following the death of his mum in an accident; Cary (Ryan Lee) is something of a pyromaniac so is, naturally, the project’s special effects guy; and Charles is the group’s husky director, who invites local babe Alice (Fanning) to appear in their movie because he has a crush on her, only to find out that Joe has the hots for her, too.
Preparing to make an amateur flick good enough to enter into a film festival, the gang – which also includes Preston and Martin – sneak out one night to the local train station to film a key scene and realise it will look all the more impressive if they shoot the locomotive as it rumbles past them. However, their filmmaking captures something far more extraordinary than they intended as a truck suddenly appears on the track, racing towards the train, and causing a derailment that has the kids running for their lives as debris flies through the air, train cars rip apart and engines explode. Why would anyone want to derail a cargo train? Why have lots of dogs gone missing (hint: they have all run away for some reason)? What are secretive army types doing in town, picking through the train wreckage? And, erm, what’s that scary drooling hissing thing behind you?
A nostalgia trip for parents – not just for a different time but also for a type of movie-making and storytelling we remember growing up with (Abrams clearly remembers early Spielberg films and the man himself is the movie’s producer) – this is also a fun, scary adventure for older kids as Joe and pals seek to find out what’s going on when the town’s grown-ups around them seem pretty clueless. The relationship between the boys – and Joe’s growing bond with the older Alice – is warm and believable and the tender heart of this story, and while the film loses its way in the final third as it awkwardly switches from coming of age movie to creature feature, it’s nevertheless a must-see gem that values story-telling over explosions and characters over mindless action. And that’s something of a rarity in 21st century summer blockbusters.
Is Super 8 suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
Note that this film is for older children, younger ones especially will find the idea that Joe’s mother has died very upsetting.
Younger kids will find the monster scary when it appears, especially when it attacks the kids inside a bus.
The climax of the movie may also frighten viewers under the age of 10.