Review & Interview with JJ Abrams: Super 8 (2011)

| 9 June , 2011 | Reply

Keeva Stratton

Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Zach Mills

In 1979, a group of high school students are filming their own zombie movie (on Super 8mm film, hence the title) when they happen to witness an earth-shattering train crash. The crash itself is veiled in mystery. And when their science teacher appears to have caused it, and the military arrive in force to clean it up, it soon becomes apparent that there is nothing ordinary about it.

The train\’s cargo seems to be of particular interest to the military, and with strange disappearances, missing dogs and electrical surges following the crash, it would seem this small Ohio town, and the kids who witnessed the crash, may now be involved in a secret government project whose cover-up goes to the highest levels of national security.

Simply put, Super 8 springs out of the box with a pure, unadulterated pleasure. For the first time since Spielberg\’s own directorial offerings of the 1970s and 80s, we are privileged to bear witness to the sheer magic and enjoyment of a film that is as mysterious as it is delightful. Having captured the essence of films such as Stand By Me, Close Encounters and Flight of the Navigator, Abrams has used this essence to conjure up a new and exiting tale for this generation, stamping his place as the master\’s prized apprentice—who now is himself becoming revered. There are many echoes of E.T. in this film, not least of all from the splendid performance of Elle Fanning (Dakota\’s younger sister), who at just 12, like Barrymore before her, shows serious promise.

For some, just the combined opening credits of Amblin and Bad Robot will both excite and delight. The mere thought of Steven Spielberg and his modern-day protégée J.J Abrams working together on a mysterious sci-fi-esque adventure will no doubt elevate the heart rate—and, it would seem, with good reason. This is superb film making, and for those of us who were young during Spielberg\’s film-making prime, you can look forward to being transported back to sweet memories of your favourite childhood cinema.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with J.J. Abrams while he was in Sydney, and here\’s what he had to say about making this magnificent film:

On working with his idol Steven Spielberg:

He\’s a master and a hero of mine. At the very beginning it was surreal and intimidating, but I knew him enough to know that it was going to be ‘ok\’ to have conversations. He was completely supportive of the movie I wanted to make.

Steven never stops coming up with ideas. I was nervous because I revere him so much, but it ended up exceeding all expectations. I had to laugh because I cannot tell you how often I would wonder ‘what would Steven Spielberg do in this situation?\’, and on this film he was right there. I could just ask, ‘Hey Steven, what would you do?\’

On directing Elle Fanning:

One of the things that struck me was just how sophisticated she was, and that she would understand how to modulate her own performance. She\’s 12, and she was able to take direction from me, to understand different emotions—I was exponentially amazed with Elle, she was just incredible.

On what his approach to filmmaking:

When you see something that you can tell meant something to the storyteller, I believe you [the viewer] can feel that. I would rather take something that is perhaps imperfect, yet meaningful, rather than something that is perfect.

On working with his musical partner Michael Giacchino

The soundtrack to any film is critical. Working with him on this film had, in particular, the same meaning for him as it did for me. The music was from his childhood. There is something about this score that feels so profoundly emotional and I think it is one of the best films he\’s done.

On what inspired him:

There was no film in particular; it was a combination of the movies of Steven Spielberg\’s, George Lucas, John Carpenter and Romero, films of that time. It was about looking at that period of time and knowing that I was completely free to make that type of film. It\’s an Amblin [referring to Steven Spielberg\’s company] movie—if kids get on their bicycles I shouldn’t feel guilty.

On watching scary films as a child:

What I loved about what movies did is that they played with all your fears, but they were safe. Movies took me to a place, whether they were slasher films or supernatural films, yet we were still innocent. I was scared by any number of movies and even though the odds of meeting Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees was unlikely, the thing that scared me the most in movies was the thing that also intrigued me the most. They were the things I wanted to learn how to do.

Join Super 8 on Facebook and Twitter for Super 8 discussions and more, just make sure you include the #super8movie hashtag!

Super 8 is a blockbuster not to be missed, and is in cinemas from June 9.


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