IN the summer of 1982, an earthbound alien phoned home and audiences wept with joy, cementing Steven Spielberg’s reputation as the greatest film-maker of his generation.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was a cultural phenomenon that spoke to our inner child, envisioning the cruel world through the eyes of Elliott as he risked everything to protect his otherworldly friend from scientists and shadowy government agents.
Almost 30 years later, director JJ Abrams pays homage to Spielberg’s fantasy with Super 8, a rollicking adventure with echoes of The Goonies that depicts the rampage of an alien creature in rural 1970s America from the perspective of six children whose worlds have just been rocked by Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
In the sleepy industrial town of Lillian, Ohio, teenager Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is struggling to come to terms with the death of his mother and the strain on his father, Deputy Sheriff Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler).
The youngster invests his time in making a low-budget zombie film with his friends.
Director Charles (Riley Griffiths) bosses everyone around while special effects expert Cary (Ryan Lee) provides the fake gore.
Dim-witted leading man Martin (Gabriel Basso) tries to remember his lines to the chagrin of long-suffering sound-man Preston (Zach Mills).
To increase the film’s chances of winning first prize in a nationwide competition, Charles persuades classmate Alice (Elle Fanning) to sign up as lead actress and the children head down to the local rail station to shoot a night-time sequence.
Just as the camera starts rolling, the youngsters witness a truck drive on to the tracks and derail an oncoming freight train.
As they make a hasty escape, the trespassing teens are oblivious to the monstrous creature crawling free from the twisted wreckage.
Super 8 is a delightful nostalgia trip, recalling a bygone era when young protagonists embarked on amazing journeys and emerged from the melee with barely a scratch or bruise.
You have to suspend your disbelief throughout Abrams’s film, but as pure unadulterated entertainment, there is much to enjoy from the amusing banter between the children to the first clear glimpse of the monster as a reflection in a puddle at a gas station while an unwitting attendant listens to Blondie’s Heart Of Glass on his exciting new purchase – a Walkman.
The centrepiece train crash is brilliantly realised and even if the creature design is an anticlimax, the digitally-rendered behemoth is seamlessly integrated with the live action.
Courtney is a spirited hero of the hour and he milks genuine tears as Joe wrestles with the loss of the woman who brought him into the world.
Fanning is equally impressive and there is a lovely rapport between the two young actors and with co-stars Griffiths, Lee, Basso and Mills.
Step back in time to 1982.