Review: ‘Super 8′
That is not Gertie and Elliott. Paramount
2. Oh, it's all here, the mop-topped boy left alone by adults to fend for himself (from Henry Thomas to effective newcomer Joey Courtney), the daddy issues, the "Goonies"-esque Kids Out On An Adventure, the benevolent, misunderstood alien presence who is too sensitive for Man to understand, the we-must-all-stand-together-or-we-will-stand-alone community ethos, that sense that these supernatural events are happening in a real, grounded place. "Super 8" plays like a checklist of Spielberg tropes, but what makes Spielberg Spielberg is that he, himself, is one of those too-sensitive-for-this-world kids. This drives you nuts sometimes -- I'll confess his obsession with childhood sometimes borders on the creepy -- but it is undeniably huge-hearted and painfully sincere. I'm not sure Abrams is capable of that sort of sincerity. I'm not sure anyone is.
3. "Super 8" is another film that knows the words but not the music. Set in 1979, prime Spielberg real estate, we met Joe and his friends (including Alice, played by Elle Fanning, who is so natural and open-faced an actress that it's almost terrifying; you want to protect her from the real scary world that awaits her), who are making a movie when they witness a horrific train crash, started, improbably, by their biology teacher. Something escapes from the train, and before we know it, the military is involved, Joe's Deputy dad (Kyle Chandler) is trying to find out what's happening and, oddly, all the dogs in town are disappearing. What's going on? This is all put together nicely -- Abrams is nothing if not sleek and efficient -- but it lacks anything that might give it any real soul. Abrams has a technocrat's spirit; he is trying to calculate what it might mean to see the events of "Super 8" through a child's eyes, but he doesn't actually know. It feels like we're watching home movies of these kids, rather than seeing them experience all of this. "Super 8" was intended as a mashup of Spielberg's old-school '80s sentiment and today's "Cloverfield" high-tech, hip monster movies. But Abrams can't reconstruct that sentiment. He just apes it.