As a High School Musical generation began to take over I felt that I had lost the ability to truly appreciate the skills of young actors. J.J Abrams superb casting has restored my faith, I cannot praise it enough. Walking in I had fairly high expectations from the director of the highly successful Star Trek reboot, but I cannot lie, a young cast put me off.
One of the first things that I loved was how it gave out a warm nostalgic feeling, reminiscent of childhood favourite E.T. Of course it would, being produced by none other than Steven Spielberg himself I felt that his influence was undeniable. The innocence, the 70s haircuts, the friendships, the soundtrack, the everyday working of a small rural American town, all perfectly aligned with a fantastic and classic sci-fi storyline.
It follows a group of young friends in the summer of 1979, Ohio, trying to complete their latest Super 8 film. One night they all sneak out to the local railway track to shoot; instead they witness a high speed train crash. Soon after unexplainable things begin to happen in their town, people start disappearing; it soon occurs to them that something dangerous and sinister has escaped from the train wreck. This is enough of a storyline to keep you engrossed all the way through, but the brilliance of this ‘Spielbergian’ film is the heart of it, a story about personal struggle and strife. We follow Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney); coming to terms with the death of his mother and the distance it has created between himself and his father, the local Deputy. We have the obvious but welcoming plotlines such as the best friend since kindergarten and falling for the girl next door. All fantastic at making a believable bunch of friends but the real break out stars were Courtney and Elle Fanning who plays Alice. Elle Fanning is a joy to watch, flawless and understated, very much like her famous sibling Dakota but quite rightfully in a league of her own here. The interactions between her and Courtney are sweet, reinforcing that Spielberg way of innocence.
The train crash itself was pleasing to the eye, big, thunderous, terrifying, train cars flying through the air in the thunder balls. The unveiling of the creature that plagues the town is done well, drawn out in suspense using shadows and positioning of the camera. Of course there is always debate on the GCI, and when we finally get a look at the extra terrestrial it can be said that it serves its purpose. Not amazing, yet not terrible, scary enough but not enough to frighten the kids, the kind of ‘Spielbergian’ E.T. you are looking for. The extra terrestrial had crashed landed many years ago, instead of helping him to rebuild his ship he is captured by the military and tortured for many years. This is of course exactly the same theme that runs through E.T. and many other of his films, innocent victims versus an oppressive government, with children who are uncorrupted as the hero’s.
As with all big budget guns and GCI blazing blockbusters you are going to have moments of cringing over the script, but to be honest I lapped it up. I thought that the wise cracks between the young boys though annoying at moments were generally very funny and helped in winning me over. At one point near the end of the film Joe comes face to face with the creature, telling it that it’s ok “bad things happen but you can still live”. This I found touching as Joe has a psychic connection with alien over the loss of his mother and being scared of being alone.
The clothes, the music, the sets really oozed nostalgia, the American kids of the 70’s/80’s that Spielberg painted as thriving on adventure. Something I found amusing during the film was Cary’s (Ryan Lee) obsession with fireworks, the mischievousness that came with the only have the simplest of things; it really had a Goonies feel to it.
Throughout Deputy Lamb has a constant battle with his son in keeping him safe, or so he thinks, enraged by the man who he believes is responsible for the death of his wife, he is unable to see past his rage. However, in true Spielberg fashion, the near loss of his son and the destruction of the town brings them closer together than ever before. Leading to a tear jerker of an ending where Joe releases a trinket given to him by his mother, as if he were releasing the pain of her memory for the both of them.
I think it’s rare for a film to be so well crafted that a story about real issues can sit so well onto of a genre such a sci-fi, but it works, and it works very well! Good man Mr Abrams.