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'Super 8' Relies on Nostalgia to Make It Work

The film's young actors save the day.

In many people’s eyes, J.J. Abrams, co-creator of the epically popular “Lost” series, can do no wrong. I’ve never seen “Lost,” but I knew enough about Abrams to be excited by “Super 8.” Add producer Steven Spielberg to the project, and you have a guaranteed blockbuster.

And blockbuster it is, raking in $35 million its opening weekend. And yet the movie itself suffers a bit from all the hype. I went in expecting revolutionary. What I got was “E.T.” meets “Stand By Me.”

Everything about the film felt like something we’ve seen before: the carefree boys causing trouble; the beautiful girl from the wrong side of the tracks; the big dreams and inevitable disaster.

Abrams set his story in a small West Virginia town in 1979. That alone gives the film that nostalgic glow we’ve come to associate with the coming-of-age films of the '70s and '80s with which we’re so familiar. At the top of the story, we meet Joe Lamb, a 13-year-old boy whose mother has just died in a steel mill accident. Joe’s father, Jackson, is a deputy in town, which we know will factor in the plot.

A few months later, Joe’s friends, a lovable cadre of doofy boys, are deep into filming a zombie film, when they are joined by Alice (played by Elle Fanning, little sis to Dakota), an ethereal blonde with a rebellious streak. The kids are at the tracks late one night, shooting a little super-8 footage, when a train collides with a pick-up truck, creating a massive explosion and sending curious, white cubes shooting in every direction. What are those cubes? Why did their teacher drive himself onto the tracks? And where did everyone’s dogs go?

What unfurls is a science fiction mystery/thriller with humor, heart and intrigue. It’s solid. It’s just not amazing.

For me, the film would have been far less captivating if it weren’t for its young co-stars, Fanning and Joel Courtney (Joe). Abrams’ script demanded a lot from both, scripting scenes of heartache and loss. Fanning and Courtney manage to capture those two very complicated emotions with depth and subtlety, and watching the two interact is a highlight of the entire piece.

You hear that J.J.? More honest, heartfelt writing. Less predictable alien subplots. Thanks.

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