In this saturated summer of sequels and superheroes, I suppose we should be sincerely congratulating JJ Abrams, the writer/director of 'Super 8' for producing an original (and actually rather good) movie. But 'Super 8' is only original in its broadest sense - the film owes much to the Steven Spielberg and the characteristic Ambln Entertainment films of old.
'Super 8' sits somewhere between the eighties Amblin classics, 'E.T' and 'The Goonies', both in style and content. Larry Fong's cinematography is particularly evocative although it stands no match for Abrams' penchant for lens flares.
The plot takus us back to 1979, in a small Ohio town. We soon see the emotional turmoil shared between thirteen year old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney and his father, the local Sheriff's deputy (Kyle Chandler), who struggle to cope with the death of Joe's mother. Joe focusses his energy into a super 8 film project with his friends, while developing a relationship with Elle Fanning's character.
When filming their zombie short, the group find themselves in the midst of a catastrophic train crash, which they barely escape from. But something else does escape. And things start to disappear.
The military descend upon town but their reluctance to share information frustrates Joe's father, and indirectly the rest of the town who want answers from the Sheriff's department. Joe and his pals take it upon themselves to find out more about the escaped creature against an increasingly dominant military background.
The eventual alien reveal is questionable (after being teased for almost the entire film) and its anthropomorphic characteristics were dubious - in particular, the idea that a subterranean extra-terrestrial creature would have strikingly similar eyes to humans. And I'm not sure about the ability for psychic connection with other species either.
The alien happenings and the melée of explosions, all the more immersive due to Michael Giacchino's bombastic score, arguably take away from the compelling central themes of loss and isolation. Yet the balance in 'Super 8' between the comedic elements (of which there are many) and the emotion and drama is superbly constructed by Abrams.
The masterful balance is undoubtedly aided by the strength of the acting of the young group of kids, who are uniformly brilliant. With so much of the film dedicated to their activities, 'Super 8' could have easily fell into a silly adventure caper along the lines of 'The Goonies'. Instead, we get a wonderful coming of age tale with the heart of 'E.T'.
The symbolic "letting go" ending is perhaps a little forced but the amusingly ironic use of the completed George Romero-inspired super 8 short during the end credits ensures that even the most hardened viewer will go home at least reasonably placated. For this viewer, it simply cemented the fact that 'Super 8' is an awe-inspiring throwback.
'Super 8' is on wide release throughout UK cinemas from today.