By a country mile, this was my favourite blockbuster of 2011 and just like in 2009, my favourite blockbuster of the year comes from the hands of J.J. Abrams, delivering a fairly obvious but nontheless superbly done homage to early Spielberg and the Amblin films of the 70s and 80s.
Set in 1979, it follows fourteen year old Joe (an astonishingly good debut by Joel Courtney) who lost his mother in an industrial accident a few months before. Becoming more estranged from his police officer father (Kyle Chandler) he's investing his time with his friends as they work on their friend Riley's dream of making a zombie movie to enter into a local competition. As ever, a girl figures to complicate matters in the form of Alice (an excellent Elle Fanning). However, one night when sneaking out to film at a local train station their lives are shifted when a massive derailment right in front of them brings mystery........and the military into their town.
As mysterious events begin to happen in the town, Joel and his friends may just end up being the only people to be able to understand just what was onboard the train that the military seem intent on finding.............
Yes, it's a mish-mash of Close Encounters/E.T/The Goonies as blended by Abrams and his little mystery moments etc and if that's a criticism of it then that's exactly what WORKS about it and actually elevates above the glut of sequels, superhero's and 3D hollow pretences at entertainment out there. This is a good, old-fashioned family flick with characters that Abrams spends some time letting you get to know, letting you get into their world and into their lives. The kids are incredible together and they feel like a bunch of real friends messing around and having a great time. All the while Abrams strings out the emerging mysteries in the town in the background before bringing them together towards the end. The emotional part of the story is pretty obviously done, but it's also effective because you care about the people anyway. It's simple.................but simple works.
Plus it still has it's share of visual effects (the train crash is a spectacularly OTT moment and more effects come in at the finale as well and look great) and explosions as well, alongside another great score by Micheal Giaccino.
OK, so I do have a couple of gripes about the film (the surviving of the train crash at the start is fairly unlikely for one character, and I would maybe have liked the alien's dimensions to be a little more manageable) and it's far from flawless........BUT.......the whole of Super 8 itself is so wonderful and likeable that these are small cracks of a price to pay to be briefly transported back to a time when movies made you feel something about the people at the heart of it rather than solely bombard you with nothing but CGI.
For that, I for one, am very happy that Abrams got to make his homage to his idol if this is the result.