Through the eyes of Adolescents
Director / Screenwriter J. J. Abrams's film, "Super 8," reminded me of "Close Encounters" meets "E.T." meets "Goonies," and even though this chemistry in celluloid sounds like one giant cliché, the film worked, and it worked quite well.
How did it escape the tremulous gravity of this giant cliché? The cliché originated by this film's producer Steven Spielberg in "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," which worked so effectively in his earlier films.
The creative force behind "Super 8," J. J. Abrams, employed the simple tools of craft and guile, just as the hyper-successful Spielberg did, to haul us along for the thrilling ride of a small town turned upside down by events well beyond their control. By the implement of craft, he used the visual stimulation of tones and hues of muted color to take us back to what we might remember as simpler times, as well as pitch perfect camera placement to partially tell his story through the visual stimulation of symbol. Using the implementation of guile, Mr. Abrams told this story through the non reluctant, innocent eyes of guileless adolescents - mere children in a most cynical world. It worked well, just as the classic, "E.T.," employed that same tool about three decades before. Some stories are best told to the hearts of children.
And these adolescents / children were no ordinary precocious movie kids. They were a team, representative of thoughtful, though diverse group of lower middleclass to middleclass kids, while creative in mind and spirit were born to a regular life. These friends were not born into privilege, but were privileged in their relationships to each other. Their relationship was essentially a microcosm of a well functioning society, which aided in our acceptance of the film's story from the perspective of adolescents / children. This is not easily accomplished, but key for a film such as this one to work.
Super 8's titular force was the creativity of this gang of children, who rallied around Charles, played by Riley Griffiths, an overweight bossy entrepreneur film maker, whose tools for his avocation was his father's borrowed 8 millimeter camera, which, of course, used Super 8 film. His "posse" consisted of a precocious group of divergent individuals who reluctantly functioned as a pure democracy resolved to two directives: help the bossy Charles make his all consuming film, and just make it through the community fiasco in one piece. Both were a supreme challenge.
These children / adolescents were up to it, because simply, they were a team. And the team was: bossy Charles, Joe Lamb, played by Joel Courtney, Cary, played by Ryan Lee, Martin, played by Gabriel Basso, Preston, played by Zach Mills, and Alice Dainard, played by Elle Fanning. Of all these child actors, only Elle Fanning, sister of Dakota Fanning, has had extensive work in the business. Obviously, the acting gene is inherent within her DNA. Most of the other young actors have done much work in this crazy business - mostly television - but Elle has had major roles in some decent films.
One of the young actors with almost no prior work was Joel Courtney, who play Joe Lamb. Aside from Courtney resembling a young Patrick Fugit, in every capacity, in his first major work, "Almost Famous," his character was central to this core of adolescents, as was Elle Fanning's portrayal of Alice Dainard. His family situation was stable, but tenuous due to the loss of mother to a work related accident. Joel's father, Jackson Lamb, played by Kyle Chandler, was having trouble dealing with this untimely familial loss; however, when the Sheriff goes missing, this chief deputy finds his world in a swirl, and must shelve his grief, as he is called to become the community's leader in this time of great adversity.
Actor Kyle Chandler, as does Ron Eldard, who played Alice's father, the ne'er-do-well Louis Dainard, are remarkable in that their roles, while not central, cast the mood and direction of their children, who are central to the story. Good actors must help project the story for any worthwhile film to find true success.
And that is the success of "Super 8" - story. I got the message, which may be totally different from what J.J. Abrams intended, and different from what you may understand as central to why this film was made, but that is the mark of a very good film. It speaks to who we are, and this film spoke it well.
Rated PG13, Released on DVD November 22, 2011, 112 tight, well employed minutes of run time.