Super 8, written and directed by J.J. Abrams, is a cinematic love letter to days gone by, and to an era of film-making gone by, wrapped up neatly into a summer blockbuster package. The feel, the atmosphere, the gravitas of the movie is pure Steven Spielberg, who served as a producer. I felt like I was watching a circa 1984 Spielberg movie reminiscent of ET or The Goonies, but in the very best way.
Precocious but well-intentioned kids, absent but well-meaning adults, and a coming of age story that anyone will recognize. This isn't your classic 50s sci-fi monster movie, but the oft-told story of kids growing up in a world that they've just realized isn't always fair, and that bittersweet time spent on the cusp of adulthood.
The year is 1979, and Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney in his first role) is helping his best friend Charles make a Super 8 zombie movie to enter into a contest. While filming late one night, the boys and their lone girl counterpart Alice (Elle Fanning, who is fantastic beyond her years) witness and inadvertently record a train derailment, and its supernatural aftermath. Dogs go missing, as do car engines and power lines. The military shows up, causing more questions to be asked than they're willing to answer. It would be a disservice to give away too much, and in this case, knowing less about the plot is definitely more.
As the boys struggle to finish their movie against the mysterious backdrop of military action, the movie also struggles to mesh those two threads together. The adult characters, always on the periphery, feel somewhat underdeveloped and unnecessary. It might have been more detrimental to the movie had the child actors not been so stellar. It's definitely their movie, and every one of them shine.
Don't go expecting to be scared, because it's not that kind of movie. Go because Super 8 will remind you of what a summer blockbuster should be, of what they used to be, before the dog days were flooded with comic book superhero remakes, and the umpteenth sequel to The Fast and the Furious. It's rated PG-13, but the violence and strong language is minimal, so younger kids can enjoy it too. It may not be this generation's ET or Close Encounters, because the heart and soul that Spielberg infused into his movies is hard to copy, but it's a worthy successor. I give it three-and-a-half out of four Miners.