Year Released: 2011
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Ryan W. Lee, Kyle Chandler
(PG-13, 112 min.)
"There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in." Graham Greene
There’s something rotten in this small Ohio town in 1979. It’s scaring off the local dogs and sucking up car engines, power lines, and a small assortment of human beings. Sure, the military personnel that swoop down to clean up after a spectacular train crash are tight-lipped, but everything about them screams X Files.
But that’s not really what J.J. Abrams’ homage to Steven Spielberg is about. We only have to look to the title to see that. Super 8 is a tribute to boyhood of an earlier era when the world was defined by how far you could peddle your bike, when you had to deal with the reality of camera film and the wait to have it developed.
It wasn’t the hyper-speed virtual world of today, with kids as mere appendages to the latest electronic gadgets. You surfed the waves not the internet; you actually talked to your friends face to face or maybe arranged some secret liaisons with your walkie talkies. The world was slower, and more real.
Abrams’ camera lovingly picks up the details of that tangible youth – jars of paint brushes stand ready to put the final touches on model trains and action figures. Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), modeler extraordinaire, can even rattle off the exact name of the gray paint used on the train car, probably one of at least a dozen or so variations on that hue.
He and a small cadre of middle schoolers off for the summer are the core of this film. As in Spielberg’s Goonies, we see the world through their eyes. They are at a tender age, teetering on the edge of childhood innocence readying themselves for the headlong plunge into adolescence. At once ordinary and unique, they share adventures and loneliness.
Charles (Riley Griffiths) wields the Super 8 video camera. The zombie film is his idea and he is obsessed with camera angles and “production values,” constantly framing off the world into shot-sized boxes with his paired forefingers and thumbs. Yet his dreams do not completely revolve around films, as we find out his real reason for asking the local beauty Alice to be in the film is not so much for rounding out the all male cast as it is his crush on her. His friends kid him about his appetite and weight, but the big guy tells them his doctor says he will “lean out” soon.
Alice (Elle Fanning, younger sibling to Dakota) not only accepts his cast call, but “borrows” her dad’s car to drive them to the shooting location, a train station on the edge of town. She copes with her alcoholic dad, keeping him at arm’s distance in their ramshackle house. Cary (Ryan W. Lee) is a little guy whose mouth is a train wreck of braces. He is as obsessed with explosions as Charles is with making movies and carries a backpack loaded up with cherry bombs and various other small pyrotechnics. Joe uses his expertise with model painting to do the film’s makeup, all the while trying to deal with the death of his mother some months earlier.
During the night filming session at the deserted train station, a real train looms in the distance. Charles, seeing this as a chance to enhance his lauded “production values,” urges the cast to keep performing as the train passes by. So intent are he and the cast on filming that the only one to spot the pickup truck driving right into the oncoming train is makeup man Joe. But everyone sees the crash, and it is spectacular. We watch the initial collision and then the chain reaction as cars careen, explode and vault into the air. Miraculously, the young actors survive and so does the driver of the pickup, who turns out to be their biology teacher. Certainly, his survival more than strains our credibility here, but he ushers in a new reality when his eyes pop open and he warns them to tell no one what they have seen here, on danger of their lives. Somehow the Super 8 survives as well, and we realize it has been filming the entire episode.
Of course there is a three-day wait to see what the camera has seen, again reminding us that our current instant access to everything may be less frustrating but it certainly robs us of suspense. During that time, the mystery defines itself by the strange set of losses – the town dogs, car engines, power lines, small appliances, and assorted residents.
Somehow, the film crew still live in their film within a film world, even trying to continue filming their zombie movie as the military comb through town like efficient solder ants while the residents become more and more restless. Their decision to stay mum about their eyewitness account of the train wreck is put to a test when the film reel comes back, revealing some astounding footage of what their own eyes had missed during the explosion.
This nostalgic return to an earlier era is also a glimpse of something we are missing now in films. It is a reminder to reject fast paced cynicism for a return to old-fashioned story telling. A reminder of the sweet rewards of innocence, awe, and characters who are real.
Out film takes place in a small Ohio town in the heart of America. And what is more American than apple pie? Just the thing to celbrate summer.
Top it off with a slice of sharp cheddar or a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. I can almost taste the tart apples, the flakey pastry, and the rich ice cream. Yum.
Sunday’s Apple Pie
2 prepared 8 inch pastry shells
6 tart apples - peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Place sliced apples in a large bowl. In a small bowl combine sugar, cinnamon, and flour. Stir well and pour mixture over apples. Cut half of butter or margarine into small pieces and add to apples. Toss apples until thoroughly coated.
Pour apples into pastry-lined pie pan. Dot apples with the rest of butter or margarine. Place second pastry on top. Seal edges and cut steam vents in top crust.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until crust is golden brown.
Recipe Source: allrecipes.com