Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Video Review: "Super 8"

Director J. J. Abrams self-consciously channels Steven Spielberg in "Super 8," an ode to Gen-X childhood and 1970s filmmaking built around a sense of wonderment. It's the story of a group of boys in small-town 1979 Ohio, who are shooting an amateur zombie movie when a real-life disaster descends upon their community.

The plot is fairly predictable -- if you haven't figured out what the threat is by the time the military starts invading with soldiers, you must've been asleep. But Abrams, who also penned the screenplay, manages to convincingly evoke and specific time and place of his own imagining.

Here, 13-year-olds talk and act exactly like real preteens do, not the glossy, whitewashed versions we're used to in mainstream films. Joe (Joel Courtney), the shy kid who does the special effects make-up, is the main character but brash Charles (Riley Griffiths), the director of the picture-within-a-picture, calls the shots. He's obsessed with putting "production value" into their flicks, and comes up with the idea of casting a girl (a girl!) in their movie.

Thus enters Alice, the rebellious gal at school, played by Elle Fanning in a game-changing performance. Things get rolling with the derailing of a locomotive, in a scene that makes the train crash in "The Fugitive" look wimpy. The mysterious behavior of one of their schoolteachers and other odd occurrences takes the story into serious "Twilight Zone" territory.

Along the way, Joe will have to deal with his distant father (Kyle Chandler), a deputy sheriff who's broken up about the recent death of his wife.

What it lacks in originality, "Super 8" makes up for with spunk and a genuine heart.

Extra material is quite good. If you go for the DVD version, you'll get a feature-length commentary by Abrams and key crew members, and two making-of featurettes.

Opt for the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and you'll add six more featurettes, including ones on the excellent musical score by Michael Giacchino and the tradition of 8mm filmmaking. There's also a deconstruction of the train crash scene, deleted scenes and a digital copy of the film.

Movie: 3 stars out of four
Extras: 3.5 stars

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