J.J. Abrams is probably best known for TV shows like Lost and Alias, and he has directed films like Mission Impossible III and the 2009 Star Trek, but this time around Abrams writes, directs, and produces in a style that reminds us intentionally of films of the late 70s and the 80s, especially some of the Spielberg films. (By the way, Steven Spielberg is one of the producers on Super 8.)
The film is set in 1979 and follows a group of young teenagers as they make a zombie movie on super 8 mm, the home movie format that preceded home video. While they’re shooting late one night, there is a mysterious train wreck, and things really get weird when the military comes in and takes over the town. It’s basically a monster movie.
The production design evokes the time period perfectly, but it’s the production techniques, especially the use of the camera, that really makes this film look like films of the era it represents.
This is what makes Super 8 fun – it definitely evokes iconic films like ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind – but I don’t think it’s a special movie except that I do like the performances of the young leads, Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, and I enjoy Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard as their dads. The film is good, it’s likely to be a cut above many if not most of the other summer films, but it’s not particularly special.
You might say Super 8 is slightly less than the sum of its parts.