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‘Super 8’ an homage to classic Speilberg

By Staff | Jun 29, 2011

Special effects had a “wow” crescendo for visual mysteries and surprises until digital developments reinvented visual awesomeness. A thundering rocketry blast off had eyes affixed to the moment, not a continuous display of explosives. Effects added to production values; they were not themselves the stars of the show.

Entering a continuum that graduated from a low budget cheesiness to expenses that encompassed realism, Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” led the charge of a “you’ll believe a man can fly” era.

Widely described as an homage to Spielberg’s early flicks, J.J. Abrams (“Cloverfield,” “Star Trek”) spins a science-fiction fantasy that’s akin to themes explored in a post-dawning of Aquarius free-love; the cautions of the AIDS firestorm; and the 9/11 jolt that vanquished the “me” and “stuff” society.

Set in 1979 at a small town on the edge of rural agricultural plains (shot in Weirton), the working-class community squarely represents one where everyone tends to know each other (or at least a relative by the same last name). It still has a main street, a major industrial employer, an operating rail station. Accent focuses on mostly pre- or young teens preoccupied by part-time convenience store jobs, sneaking off without a driver’s license, listening to a Walkman, and a small group focused on putting on makeup, hoisting a tripod and zooming a super 8 camera on make-believe zombies.

Shortly after midnight, a crew of tykes sets out for a train station scene. The chubby director has even convinced a nice looking leading lady (Elle Fanning), who’s squeamish about committing an unpardonable offense — driving without a license.

Rehearsals turn into a “take” when a chance locomotive’s whistle blows.

That’s mostly the trailer. No spoilers here.

To quantify what’s happening next and thereafter, inspires speechless words. Try a mystery suspense thriller from the world of science-fiction. One whose story has moral and spiritual implications that fit into an iconic, know-it-when-you-see-it, hard to classify mold.

Director Abrams teases his audience with monster fever. The introduction of the escapee from the train wreck comes under a veil of stealth, reminiscent of John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” or an Agatha Christie mystery. From a smashed vehicle and missing sheriff, “Super 8” wades into 1950’s B sci-fi standards such as the insect from “Them.”

Set before a 24/7 news cycle (and satellite dish of up to the minute news anchor stand-ups), the residents cope both with a nightstalking alleged mass murderer and a solid jolt of Cold War military industrial complex hysteria. Under this scenario, the isolated small town (and viewer) must rely on limited outside information on the event.

Staying mostly on perspectives from the point-of-view of the pre-teens allows equal helpings of vulnerability, naivete and simplicity. The young characters speak of adult attitudes and issues that enter their still lives, which should still be sweet as milk and honey. This approach allows for more and more out of control anxieties which appear beyond the control of youngsters.

Steven Spielberg’s early fantasies — “Goonies,” “Back to the Future,” “Close Encounters” — nearly all ditched the adult in favor of younger types. And his “Jaws” re-opened ignoring proactively pleaded warnings that would have narrowed the scope of the pending catastrophic event.

Yes, “Super 8” most resembles an “E.T.” coupled with “Gremlins,” but Abrams pulls out the big guns for pending “War of the Worlds” suspense and deftly orchestrated blazing battles. You’re not officially in a lost “Twilight Zone,” just an area in the heartland where imaginative hell accompanies the after-effects of a derailed freight train.

Spielberg fanatics delve into familiar or symbolic scene-stretching, glue-your-eyeballs-to-the-screen moments, you will find intentional or unintentional scene snips where costume change magic would allude toward highly acclaimed message-oriented samples from Spielberg’s filmography (example, evacuation and “Schindler’s List.”) . Stay seated during the credits for a mini double feature.

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