It is not hard to explain why cinema is such an important part of my life; it is because of the magic that filmmakers are able to capture and create. Steven Spielberg made his name capturing the purest, most honest form of magic in his early films.
In 1981 he created Amblin, a production company whose name became synonymous with movie magic. Amblin became a logo and name that anyone who grew up in the 80s or 90s knows and loves.
Over the last decade we have seen the result of Amblin’s effect on the kids who grew up watching its films, and wanting to recreate them as adults. JJ Abrams was one such kid and his new film Super 8, is both a tribute to Spielberg, and a worthy entry into the Amblin catalogue.
The film follows Joe Lamb, played by Joel Courtney, as he copes with the death of his mother, as well as his increasingly cold and distant father. While Joe is helping his best friend Charles shoot a 8mm zombie film, they witness a horrific train accident, which unleashes something deadly and otherworldly into the small town. And as interesting as the developing mystery is, it is the relationships between Joe and his father, his friends and his new love interest Alice, that make the film truly great.
Tribute and homage can only take you so far, and it is the passion and heart of Super 8 that makes this film fall in line with the best of Amblin’s cinematic output. Abrams has proven time and time again that he knows how to manipulate his audience and their emotions. He was able to give an emotional heart to his debut Mission: Impossible 3, and make audiences tear up in the first ten minutes of his Star Trek reboot.
If Abrams was able to give a heart and soul to two cold and calculated properties, I was certainly expecting Super 8 to grab me emotionally. On this level, Super 8 was more than successful, on several occasions simple wordless interactions between characters reminded me so much of my childhood I could barely hold the tears back. Abrams does here what only the best filmmakers can do, and that is capture the magic of childhood.
The film develops in unexpected ways, as it becomes a true drama and a full-blown adventure film at the same time. Abrams is selling a true children’s adventure film as a more adult mystery, and it is my hope that audiences will react positively to this. Abrams does not rip off Spielberg, nor does he directly reference him, something many were worried about. This is clearly a JJ Abrams film; however the influence is still obvious. Learning very clearly from Jaws, Abrams does not show us the creature right away, instead he opts to shows us minor glimpses until a true reveal is necessary.
The design and reveal flaws that ruined the Abrams-produced Cloverfield do not rear their ugly head here, in fact it is the design and reveal of the creature that impressed me most.
I do not mean to oversell Super 8, as it is not a perfect film. That being said, its flaws are entirely overshadowed by some very real strengths. The performances are across the board fantastic, the effects impeccable, and most of all the feeling this film gave me is one I will never forget. This film is true magic, not just imitation or tribute to the magic that inspired Abrams to become a filmmaker. Super 8 gave me something that I try desperately to find in films, and that is a mirror into my childhood. Cinema is the easiest form of time-travel, and Super 8 was successful in whisking me back to my childhood.