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Published on August 22nd, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie

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Super 8 Film Review: The New And Improved ET

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Director: JJ Abrams.
Cast: Joel Courtney, Ellie Fanning, Riley Griffiths and Ron Livingston.

With Super 8 comes the 21st century version of ET but this is a vastly different film in execution and aesthetics. Although for many people the 1980’s film will reign supreme, Super 8 is superior in nearly all facets excepting the wonderful score by John Williams. As each new generation improves on the efforts of the last, the bar is being continually raised higher and higher. This is especially true of the film industry which is seeing an unprecedented emergence between human talent and technological innovation.

Super 8 sees a group of friends and would-be friends engage in filming a zombie/detective movie for a student film competition. Whilst in the middle of filming a horrific, perplexing train derailment occurs. It some emerges that the train is carrying an extra-terrestrial life-form. Strange things start occurring in the local town as dogs, pieces of technology and people start to go missing. Meanwhile the authoritative and manipulative military take command.

Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) And Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) In Super 8

At the centre of the film is Joe Lamb. The son of the local deputy, Joe is a quiet, empathetic child who continually chooses to placate those around him in the hope of avoiding conflict. Like a bee to honey, Joe is highly attracted to the mildly deviant Alice Dainard. The daughter of the local drunkard, Alice is poorly understood by everyone except young Lamb. The filmmaking prodigy, spearheading the production is Joe’s best friend Charles. Charles is a forceful character, used to getting his way, he is dogged in his determination to see his film completed even after witnessing the extremely upsetting tragedy that occurred while shooting.

The acting from the entire cast is completely without any obvious weaknesses. Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb brings understated likeability into the role. Plagued by an earlier accident that claimed the life of his mother, he is the perfect conductor, full of fortitude, he allows the audience to see through his eyes as he undergoes a transformation from led to leader.

Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard) And Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandller) In Super 8

Ellie Fanning is highly watcheable in the role off Alice. She excellently conveys the tortured figure with subtlety. But much more than this is the internal conflict that is occurring. On one side Alice wants desperately to integrate with her new friends but the mental scarring from her troubled upbringing means that she greatly fears making herself vulnerable. Much of this coming from Fanning’s performance as she portrays this conflict without ever making it too explicit

‘the plaudits must go to Riley Griffiths’

Despite the many fine portrayals that are littered throughout the film, the plaudits must go to Riley Griffiths, who is excellent as Charles. Griffiths’ strong-willed, impatient character is one of the dynamic forces of Super 8 and will live long in the memory.

Preston (Zach Mills), Elle Fanning (Alice Dainard), Cary (Ryan Lee), Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and Martin (Gabriel Basso) In Super 8

Ron Livingston also delivers as the strongly determined, Jackson Lamb. The glue that the town depends upon, Jackson’s steely nature is mirrored by his son, Joe.

‘keeps the audience frustrated and unnerved’

J.J. Abrams borrows heavily from the Steven Spielberg-school-of-filmmaking. All of the themes of an interrupted childhood, marital tumult and familial conflict are all present. Abrams’ excellent use of dramatic irony, like Spielberg, keeps the audience frustrated and unnerved. By feeding the viewers just a little bit more information than what the characters are aware of, the director causes the audience to become more involved with the story. Their emotional investment becomes greater.

Martin (Gabriel Basso), Cary (Ryan Lee), Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) And Charles (Riley Griffiths) In Super 8

The choice of the title is interesting to say the least. Most of all because ‘Super 8’ is almost irrelevant to the theme of the film. This is an ode to filmmaking and to the work of a previous generation and for that reason the title is apt. In a sense, Abrams is carrying the baton for the next generation.

Super 8 is in a way a throwback.’

Super 8 is in a way a throwback. It is set in a world that no longer seems credible. The notion of the military force unilaterally doing what they wish is no longer accepted. The old view that there were rogue bodies that acted without the U.S. government has been discarded. Super 8 though clings rigidly towards that old model and because of this it jars with our modern era.

Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) And Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) In Super 8

That is not to say that Super 8 is flawless. It isn’t. There are certain leaps over logic that must be made to ensure the film plays fluidly. For instance, the train crash makes little sense on many levels, neither does the conspiratorial army. Those minor gripes aside Super 8 is a most welcome addition to the pantheon of good to great films. Unfortunately, for this movie and unlike in the 1980’s, there is a crowded field full of high calibre films.

We are beginning to undergo a transition into what is sure to become the true Golden Era of Hollywood. Still this isn’t something viewers should be complaining about.


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