FILM REVIEW: J. J. Abrams’s ‘Super 8’

Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Ron Eldard in ‘Super 8’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Pity the poor kids who flock to see “Super 8”, the new film from J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg about kids and aliens that Paramount releases in the UK today. It’s not just that once again parents know nothing, the armed forces are the enemy and alien monsters are friendly, it’s that they might think that you can stop a speeding freight train with a pick-up truck.

Abrams is noted for the spectacular airplane crash that started his hit TV series “Lost” and he seeks to exceed that in the mount of metal that explodes and goes flying and crashing through the air.

He sets off all the fireworks in his CGI box at once with a spectacular sequence so long, fiery and noisy that it overwhelms the rest of the picture, but it’s entirely wrong. Only one thing happens when a huge locomotive of a very long train on flat terrain smacks into a pick-up : the train carries merrily along and there’s not much left of the truck.

The scene is staged wonderfully but it sets the energy bar so high that everything afterward seems dull. The setting is 1979 in a small Ohio town where a group of kids set out to make their own zombie film. How they’ve heard of zombies in that time period is a mystery, but that won’t worry the kids in the audience who know all about them.

After the train crashes, however, the military moves in en masse and initiates a cover up of the events that makes all the grown-ups cower in servility. Only the kids have the gumption to take a look-see at what the government is so eager to cover up.

The youngsters are all appealing with the inclinations of Joel Courtney’s Joe never questioned even though he’s a dab hand with lipstick and eye makeup. He has eyes only for the scrumptious Alice (Elle Fanning), who defies her loser father Louis (Ron Eldred) to befriend Joe, whose dad Jackson (Kyle Chandler), a local cop, holds Louis responsible for the death of his wife in a factory accident, which doesn’t help matters.

Riley Griffiths, as the young man with the camera, Gabriel Basso as a budding actor, and Ryan Lee, as a boy fascinated with blowing things up, all add charm to the piece.

There are anachronisms galore and plot developments that are implausible even within the context of an alien movie. There is jaunty music by Abrams regular Michael Guacharo and slick production values, as you would expect, and there’s no reason to suppose it won’t build on the $125 million it has already grossed in North America.

It’s boisterous fun for kids. Just so long as none of them gets the idea that a pick-up truck will survive an encounter with a speeding train.

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