While all of the summer action movies have yet to be released, two stand at the head of the class as we enter mid-July, namely Super 8 and X-Men: First Class. While both are at times moving and poignant, their strength lies in the fact that they are simply great entertainment.
Yes, each contains extraordinary special effects as you would expect. However, the bottom line is they both are earnest dramas involving suspenseful plots that put real people in mortal danger. Good and evil merge as frequently is the case in life, and both tower over their rather woeful summer brethren of 2011.
In the case of Super 8, Director J.J. Abrams takes us back to a small town in the Midwest in the late 1970’s. A group of teenagers are filming an amateur zombie movie when they witness a spectacular train wreck. What makes the wreck more emotionally troublesome for our young filmmakers is the fact that a truck was spotted on the tracks heading directly towards the train moments before impact.
Following the carnage that nearly kills our young protagonists, they stare at a nearby wrecked, sealed boxcar as something suddenly starts to violently pound on the doors from the inside. As they stand transfixed in a state of awe mixed with terror, something bursts through and flees into the darkness.
So begins an intriguing story that in many ways is a tribute to the film’s Executive Producer, Steven Spielberg. Super 8 has the heartfelt charm of E.T. (1982), the sense of dread of Jaws (1975), and the innocent children in peril predicament that made Poltergeist (1982) one of the great horror films of all time.
All of the young actors hold up admirably, but young Miss Elle Fanning must be singled out. She plays Alice, one of the young would-be actors whose blue-collar father is haunted by an industrial accident that is beyond his ability to control. While she is attracted to one of the other boys whose father is the local Sheriff, a man who lost his wife in an accident that may or may not be connected to the grief being experienced by Alice’s father, the men hate one another, forcing the kids to stay at arm’s-length. At least publicly.
But this is a horror film, and that becomes evident when townspeople start to disappear. On top of that, the military has shown up to take over the investigation, and clearly they know more than what they are letting on concerning the escaped occupant of the freight car. While the only really low point of Super 8 is the unfortunate fact that the military is treated as the oafish bad guys, rather typical in these type of films, that fortunately does not impede the enjoyment of this clever film.
As with E.T. and the largely unseen aliens in Spielberg’s wondrous sci-fi creation, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), somebody or something wants to return home, and it is clearly up to the kids to find out who and why. However, let me warn you that our elusive protagonist has as much in common with E.T. as Rupert Murdoch has with journalistic integrity.
Director Abrams brings a lot of the same charm and infectious spirit to Super 8 as he did with his most recent Star Trek prequel, and this movie is a fun ride. It is scary, humane and endearing, so catch it in the theater if you still can.