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'Super 8' review

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind meets The Goonies in Super 8, J.J. Abrams's reverential tribute to the Amblin films of the '80s. The influence of producer Steven Spielberg is quickly evident in this blockbuster, but it's Abrams's monster movie kinship that transforms this into thrilling spectacle cinema. As New York found itself under attack in the Abrams-produced Cloverfield, here a small Ohio town falls victim to a mysterious extra-terrestrial beast. The action is seen through the eyes of local kids shooting a movie on a super 8mm camera, which, for a director who grew up making scrappy shorts with his pals, makes this Abrams's most personal film yet.

Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is spending the summer of 1979 helping out his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) produce a zombie epic with Carey (Ryan Lee), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Preston (Zach Mills). His mother died in a factory accident four months previously and his relationship with his father, the town's deputy sheriff Jack (Kyle Chandler), is a strained one. The movie-making provides Joe with an escape, but the close bond he forms with Alice (Elle Fanning) further puts him at odds with Jack as her father (Ron Eldard) is a town troublemaker and indirectly responsible for the death of Joe's mother.

In the midst of shooting their horror opus, a spectacular train derailment unleashes a mysterious creature in the small town and the military soon locks down the entire area. It's Abrams's juxtaposing of the mundane and the extraordinary that makes Super 8 such a Spielbergian experience. Charles, so desperate to get his movie into a film festival, gets more "production value" than he could ever have imagined when an alien roars into town. A young Abrams and Spielberg probably longed for their boyhood movies to have large-scale train collisions, explosions and aliens from space. In Super 8, this fantasy becomes a reality.

Superb central performances from the kids, particularly Courtney, Griffiths and Fanning, lend the film a strong emotional core, notably in a group sing-a-long of The Knack's classic 'My Sharona' that captures their friendship perfectly. This is much more than Stand by Me with aliens, though. It's a coming-of-age story that packs in tension and shocks as Abrams refuses to hold back with the alien attacks. Just as the concealment of Jaws's shark kept audiences on-edge, Abrams carefully chooses his moments to unleash Super 8's alien.

The movie works hard to build up and develop its characters, so it's a shame that they get lost somewhat in a final third that leans heavily on huge visual effects-driven set pieces. Ultimately, though, this is a minor quibble about Super 8, a giddily nostalgic film that recaptures the sense of awe and wonder from early Spielberg classics such as Close Encounters and ET.


More Super 8 coverage:
> JJ Abrams 'Super 8' interview: "I don't want to ruin the movie experience"
> Kyle Chandler 'Super 8' interview: "I put my faith in JJ Abrams, Spielberg"
> 'Super 8' stars interview: "We're all versions of JJ Abrams"
> Elle Fanning 'Super 8' interview: "I let my inner zombie out"
> 'Super 8' stars, JJ Abrams pick their favourite Steven Spielberg movies


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