Super 8 (2011)

(In theaters, June 2011) The best homages aren’t as much about faithful imitation as much as they’re about the understanding of what made the original click and working from the same assumptions and methods.  So it is that Super 8 is a gleefully good throwback to some of the great summer blockbusters of the eighties, from E.T. to The Goonies to Gremlins and more.  Set in 1979 and featuring half a dozen kids stumbling upon a big mystery while shooting their own amateur film, JJ Abrams’ authorized Spielberg pastiche is a solid filmmaking accomplishment: It balances mystery, action, terror, laughs, spectacle and sentiment in a deft fashion, constantly evoking pure joy at every moment.  It’s a highly satisfying film, in part due to how Abrams focuses on the basics even with the latest digital tools at his disposal.  (This being said, Abrams should really give up his addiction to lens flares –they were bad enough in Star Trek, but they’re getting ridiculously intrusive here).  The SF elements are restrained but effectively used, and the nostalgic glance at 1979 is sincere and fascinating without being overpowering or condescending.  Worth noting is the absence of any name actors (the best-known being Noah Emmerich), allowing the picture to take place without the distraction of any familiar faces.  The kid actors are very convincing, and Abrams never forgets to spend time with his characters –even though some emotional moments are carried just a bit too far, especially toward the end.  Individual set-pieces include a terrifying attack on a bus where a few characters are imprisoned, a spectacular train derailment and the amazing sight of a small Midwestern town taken over by a befuddled military attack.  It all amounts to a comfortably enjoyable summer film –easily the kind of film that a whole family could go enjoy in theaters.

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