When you think back on Amblin Entertainment's (Steven Spielberg's production studio) indomitable reign over the summer movies of the '80s and early '90s, it plays like the ultimate hit parade for adolescent wish fulfillment. E.T., Back to the Future, Gremlins, Jurassic Park, and The Goonies were formative movies for teenage audiences and, more specifically, the fanboys who now rule Ain't It Cool's comment threads.
Of course, there were the Amblin duds as well. Who remembers (no less geeks out over) Batteries Not Included, Harry and the Hendersons or Innerspace?
Super 8, J.J. Abrams' unabashed cinematic love letter to those Spielbergian days of yesteryear, falls somewhere between those two sets of films, delivering an intimate and well-directed summer movie that's more an entertaining nostalgia trip than a satisfying dramatic journey.
Say what you will about Spielberg's blatant emotional button-pushing, his stories were masterfully told, and he had an uncanny way of exploring our dreams and vulnerabilities. Abrams, on the other hand, composes his movie like an Amblin tribute band, capturing the look and feel of those beloved blockbusters but never quite finding the heart.
It's 1979 (the year Abrams was 13), and Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is a quiet but likable Ohio teen struggling with a distant police deputy dad (Friday Night Lights' Kyle Chandler) and the recent death of his mother. Luckily, he has his best friend, the movie-obsessed Charles (Riley Griffiths), who's making a Super 8 zombie film with his junior high cronies.
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