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If you only see one film this summer, make it this one

By Herald Express  |  Posted: August 11, 2011

SUPER 8:   From left, Kyle Chandler as Jackson Lamb, Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb, Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard and Ron Eldard as Louis Dainard in a scene from Super 8

SUPER 8: From left, Kyle Chandler as Jackson Lamb, Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb, Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard and Ron Eldard as Louis Dainard in a scene from Super 8

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SUPER 8 (12A)

★★★★

AT LAST, the most talked about film of the year has finally arrived.

After months of teaser trailers and an extremely clever marketing campaign, shrouding the film in mystery and intrigue, what is Super 8 actually about?

Well, before I tell you that, let me tell you that if either Close Encounters, The Goonies, ET, Stand By Me, Back to the Future or Raiders, count among your favourite films, then you must see this film.

And if they don't, then read on and maybe I can tempt you.

Back in 1979, director J.J. Abrams was a young lad inspired by the classic Spielberg films of the time, dreaming of one day being a great film director, while spending every spare minute shooting alien invasion movies on his Super 8 camera.

Several years later, his dream has come true, and after making such films as Mission: Impossible 3, Cloverfield and the TV series Lost, he has written and directed Super 8, produced by his inspirational influence, Steven Spielberg.

Super 8 tells the story of a group of young children, living in a small town in Ohio, who spend their days, just like Elliot in ET, riding around the town on their bikes, having adventures and learning that adults are not all they make themselves out to be, and will usually let you down, or leave you, or both.

In the evenings they shoot zombie movies on their Super 8 camera and then, one fateful evening, they witness a devastating train crash.

The train in question is a US Air Force freight train, travelling from Area 59, and the cargo is not something you would wish to meet down a dark alley in the middle of the night.

After the crash, strange happenings occur in the small town; cars start to explode, dogs disappear, and the 'we are not alone' scenario begins to unfold.

At the heart of this film is the family dynamic — kids who are distanced from their parents, who have to overcome struggle to move forward in life — it's a coming of age story, hugely reminiscent of Stand By Me.

It's also a first love story, an alien monster story, and all in all, one of the best pieces of storytelling I've seen on the big screen for a long while.

It has a vintage feel that harks back to that era when kids were kids and riding around on your bike listening to your Walkman meant that the world was your oyster, fear could be conquered and growing old was something that happened to everyone else.

The performances by the younger actors in this film are outstanding and the small town friendship story is nicely observed and doesn't get lost beside the 2011 blockbuster formula.

Characters are well drawn and emotion is not swallowed up by action. It's also scary!

Suspense arrives in bucketloads, and the teasing snatches of the alien monster that we see throughout the film, will keep you on the edge of your seat.

In fact, the suspense and tension work so well that when we do actually get to see the alien, it's something of a disappointment, because our imagination has been working overtime, and nothing is going to live up to our expectations.

Abrams' script is slick and drives the plot with speed and efficiency.

The photography is stunning, the director allowing the camera to encompass huge scope and breadth.

The special effects are awesome. The train crash is just insane (don't forget to breathe).

It's moving, beautifully filmed, and to give it credit over just about every other release this summer, it's an original story.

The sense of period detail is impressive — this film could have been made in 1979, it's that real.

The soundtrack is perfect, evoking nostalgia for era, while subtly underlining sub plot and sub text.

This film is not perfect; the second half feels slightly rushed and the climax of the film is limited in its imagination, but what I love about it is that it is a good, old fashioned piece of film making — an homage to those great blockbusters of the 1970s and 1980s that had a story we could connect with, and solid characters at the heart of a true adventure.

Abrams said he never intended to go back and remake those great films that influenced him so strongly.

He just wanted to make a movie that would fit into the Amblin library of work.

This film will never be one of those Amblin classics, but neither does it feel like a remake — it evokes a sense of being one of those films that we lost somewhere along the way, with the advent of 3D and films that relied on special effects, hoping that gimmicks would be good enough to con us into thinking they were great movies.

Credit must go to Abrams for being brave, sticking to his original film-making values, and going against the grain.

This film plays loving tribute to a genre that it is sorely missed and although it never quite captures the emotional resonance of ET or Close Encounters, its heart is in the right place, and that's good enough for me.

If you only see one film this summer, make it this one, especially if you are a kid who loves adventure, or an adult who secretly wishes they had never sold that bike.

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