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Nostalgia, character make 'Super 8'



Article Published: Jun. 16, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Nostalgia, character make 'Super 8'

From left, Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee, Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths star in 'Super 8.'



frank@mountaintimes.com

Seldom do filmmakers get adjectives named after them.

Sure, there's always the obligatory "esque" you can throw after someone's name, but Steven Spielberg is an exception.

"Spielbergian," while sounding like an eastern European mountain range, is typically a compliment, meaning a film shares the now iconic traits of a Spielberg film -character, discovery, intrigue and an inherent sense of wonder.

The 1980s were a prime time for this, with Spielberg not only directing classics like "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," but producing timeless favorites like Richard Donner's "The Goonies" and Robert Zemeckis's "Back to the Future" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

Almost three decades later, the magic's still there - a fact not lost on director J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek"). His new sci-fi thriller, "Super 8," is not only produced by Spielberg, but evokes the sense and style that keep those '80s classics timeless.

It's a joyride back in time that adeptly pays homage to some of Abrams' favorite films of yesteryear, steeped in nostalgia and character that remind us why it's fun to go to the movies.

Boasting a remarkable cast of relatively unknown child actors, "Super 8" is, at heart, a story about growing up, and its science-fiction trappings make for a backdrop that's literally wonderful.

In the summer of 1979, Joe Lamb (newcomer Joel Courtney) is a small-town middle-schooler, mourning the loss of his mother, who died months earlier in a freak mill accident.

To cope, Joe escapes into a world of monsters and science fiction, making low-budget, Super 8 monster flicks with his pals, including hilariously outspoken director Charles (newcomer Riley Griffiths).

Charles's latest project also gives Joe the chance to get close to his crush, newly cast schoolmate Alice (Elle Fanning, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button").

With Charles in charge, the kids - including pals Preston (Zach Mills, "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium"), worrywart Martin (Gabriel Basso, "Alabama Moon") and amateur pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee, "Kings of the Evening") - sneak over to an abandoned train station to shoot a scene.

What they capture on film, though, is completely unexpected. A passing Air Force train is violently derailed, sending fiery carnage in every direction. Lucky to have survived, the gang soon realizes there's more to the wreck than meets the eye - or lens, for that matter - especially the next day, when Air Force officials descend on the community.

Not only are details withheld from the locals, irking Joe's sheriff's deputy father (Kyle Chandler, "King Kong"), but dogs are beginning to disappear, soon followed by people. It seems something else survived the train wreck, and the kids' Super 8 footage might hold the secret.

And throughout "Super 8," Abrams tactfully keeps that secret just out of focus, letting our imaginations take control. It works. The film's action is bolstered by top-notch special effects, most notably the train wreck, which, even though it's briefly shown in the trailer, manages to come as a surprise, due to its sheer magnitude and intensity.

All the same, Abrams remains focused on his cast of memorable characters.

These kids perform admirably, effortlessly holding their own with their adult counterparts, and their characters' quirks lend a fun, "Goonies"-like quality to the narrative.

And it's not just on the surface. "Super 8" boasts a surprising amount of emotional depth, especially from Courtney and Fanning, giving audiences characters to care and root for.

By default, it's not an original formula, but rather one that isn't used nearly enough, making "Super 8" a most welcome return to summer cinema of yesteryear.

"Super 8," rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence and some drug use, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

For show times, see page 16 or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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