115 minutes

J. J. Abrams proved successfully he could revive creaky franchises with his takes on Mission: Impossible and, especially, his superb Star Trek reboot. But Super 8 is his first shot at proving himself his own man on the big screen – and, ironically, he's decided to do so by reviving Steven Spielberg's mid-eighties formula of smalltown kids thrown into larger-than-life adventures. Super 8 is an edgier version of any movie out of the family sci-fi/fantasy Amblin mid-eighties production line (think The Goonies, Batteries Not Included, Gremlins, Harry and the Hendersons — no wonder mr. Spielberg himself threw his weight behind the film as producer). But it is one with a more trenchantly hipster, adult line in pop culture references, with George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and John Carpenter's Halloween directly referenced.

     Set in 1979 in a Ohio small town (Anywhere USA), it all starts with the zombie movie a gang of middle school kids are shooting for a competition – with the tween crew just happening to be around the town train station as a classified, armoured USAF train derails spectacularly. As people and pets disappear and the town's power lines get depleted, the five kids become intrigued by what happened that night and find themselves mixed into something out of The Twilight Zone. And as the events grow progressively weirder, Super 8 takes a path into scary movie territory that mr. Abrams does not negotiate as well as he does his superb Spielbergian set-up of kids adrift in adult territory.

     The kids are one and all superbly cast and give heartfelt performances, especially Joel Courtney and the amazing Riley Griffiths as the chubby dime-store Corman junior at the helm of the zombie shoot, and you can't help think how personal this must be for mr. Abrams. But Super 8 starts out as heartfelt nostalgic pop cinema and the best ersatz Spielberg I've seen, only to tumble three-quarters of the way into a smartly done but somewhat impersonal assembly-line entry-level scary movie, its resolution eventually failing to live up to the tantalising mystery that the director dangles before our eyes for most of the film's length.

Starring Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills.
     Directed and written by J. J. Abrams; produced by Steven Spielberg, mr. Abrams, Bryan Burk; music by Michael Giacchino; director of photography (DeLuxe colour, Panavision widescreen), Larry Fong; production designer, Martin Whist; costume designer, Ha Nguyen; film editors, Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey; visual effects supervisors, Kim Libreri, Dennis Muren, Russell Earl.
     A Paramount Pictures presentation of an Amblin Entertainment/Bad Robot production. (US distributor and world sales, Paramount Pictures.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Paramount Pictures preview theatre (London), May 25th 2011. 


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