Super 8

(M) Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Joel Courtney, Ryan Lee

I might sound overly nostalgic, but there was a time when big blockbusters had a little heart and soul to go with their blockbuster special effects and set pieces, like the small intimate moment between Indy and Marion just before the Ark of the Covenant wreaks havoc on the villains, or Elliot and ET’s embrace before the spaceship lights up the sky.

These films worked hard to both capture our emotions and our excitement.

So we can be grateful that, from the opening frames of Super 8 with its retro Amblin Entertainment logo (with Elliot and ET flying across the moon), J. J. Abrams has caught lightening in a bottle once more.

Of late Jeffrey Jacob Abrams has been the go-to guy for re-invigorating franchises — Mission Impossible 3 and Star Trek come to mind but this latest film (produced by Steven Speilberg who Abrams is clearly channelling here) is a love letter to the classic adventure films of the ’80s.

During the idyllic summer holidays of 1979 in Ohio, movie buff Charles (Riley Griffiths) and his best friends Joe (Joel Courtney), Cary (Ryan Lee), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Alice (Elle Fanning) sneak out at midnight to film the latest scene in their zombie epic when they witness a catastrophic train crash.

Once they all get over the utter devastation and an ominous warning from the person who seemingly caused the train to derail, they begin to suspect that it wasn’t an accident but a rescue mission … but of what they don’t know.

Of late J.J. Abrams has been the go-to guy for re-invigorating franchises … this latest film is a love letter to the classic adventure films of the ’80s.

Shortly after, the town begins to experience intermittent blackouts, unexplainable disappearances and the US government moves in. When questions are asked, the government grunts plan a way to evacuate the town.

When Alice goes missing it’s up to Joe, who’s Dad happens to be the local deputy police officer, to uncover the terrifying truth.

From the government cover-up scenario to the slow reveal of the monster lurking in the shadows, this is Goonies, ET and Close Encounters all wrapped up neatly into an old school blockbuster, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since, well, the ’80s.

Even the sets feel like something out of a Speilberg film: the children’s bedrooms recall Elliot’s, cluttered with models and action figures, and the suburb even seems familiar to that of ET.

What Abrams manages well is the spectacle, the offbeat humour and the drama. Redemption and familial reconciliation are the film’s key emotional beats and right up to the heart-wrenching finale these are well handled among the mayhem.

And, as Abrams proved in series like Lost, he’s no slouch at allowing the suspense to build to an awe-inspiring climax. The slow reveal allows for some suspenseful sequences, like a scene midway through the film set in a petrol station, where utter devastation is caused without even a glimpse of the monster.

Early on when Charles, the portly pre-teen James Cameron, shouts “Production Value!” at the sight of the oncoming train, it’s one of those spectacular movie moments that has you smiling even as the anticipation builds.

The film feels like such a homage that when the monster comes with its 2011 CGI it almost feels a little out of place; but this is one small niggle (and obviously something that would’ve been hard to avoid).

The kids’ performances are worth the price of admission alone, with the four recalling the sort of camaraderie, humour and mateship evident in Stand by Me and Goonies.

This is a wondrous nostalgic delight.

Adrian Drayton

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