Heart, but no soul

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, June 10, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

If some of Steven Spielberg’s productions in the ’70s and ’80s were fondly remembered odes to childhood, “Super 8” adds an extra degree of separation: It’s like a fondly remembered ode to a Steven Spielberg movie about childhood.

Produced by Spielberg and written and directed by J.J. Abrams, “Super 8” is a clever idea that ought to be much more fun than it is. It’s so drenched in the look and mood of Spielberg’s world that it seems to forget to speak in its own voice.

The year is 1979 and the setting is small-town America. Some kids are making a Super 8 movie, that now-archaic film format eclipsed by the ease and affordability of video.

Our heroes have their camera running when a train crashes nearby. (A train is a now-archaic form of transportation — oh, never mind.) The camera inadvertently captures the sight of a very strange creature getting out of the wreckage. Sure enough, something wicked this way comes.

When weird things begin happening in town, it’s up to the kids (of course) to sort everything out. Sounds like a fun starting point for a summer movie, as Abrams (director of the “Star Trek” reboot and creator of TV’s “Alias” and “Lost”) deliberately tries to summon up the indicators of early Spielberg: wide-eyed wonder, parental loss, funny kid behavior.

The central character is Joe (Joel Courtney), who lives with his grief-stricken father (Kyle Chandler) in the wake of Joe’s mother’s death. Joe is thrilled when his buddy Charles (Riley Griffiths of Issaquah), a movie brat and budding Spielberg himself, casts secret crush Alice (Elle Fanning) as the love interest in their absurd movie project.

The trick for this kind of movie, as Spielberg understood, is to play the authentic concerns of childhood against the larger, fantastical spectacle going on in the background.

Abrams is a clever guy and he works hard to get this quality. Adolescent viewers may well find a satisfying adventure here and the young actors are an agreeable bunch.

Having acknowledged that, I will say that I found “Super 8” to be mostly a cardboard experience. Maybe Abrams is so intent on recapturing that early-Spielberg vibe, which will be recognizable to anybody who grew up with Spielberg’s movies on endless VHS repeat, that he skates across the surface of his own original story.

“Super 8” isn’t “The Goonies,” which I am grateful for. But it only rarely catches the magic it wants.

However, stick around for the end credits. As they play, we get to watch a true Super 8 marvel that provides more fun than all the movie’s digital effects put together.

“Super 8”

Adolescents will enjoy the monster-movie adventure here, but director J.J. Abrams is so busy paying homage to the golden age of Steven Spielberg childhood movies that he skates over the surface of his own original story. Spielberg himself produced this tale, which follows a group of budding small-town moviemakers in 1979.

Rated: PG-13 for violence

Showing: Alderwood mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridian, Metro, Thorton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

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