NEW YORK (CNS) — Perhaps a fitting alternative title for "Super 8" (Paramount) — writer-director J.J. Abrams’ able blend of nostalgia, drama and sci-fi thrills — might be "Stand By Me Meets Godzilla."
Like its 1986 predecessor, in which a quartet of boys from rural Oregon set off through the woods in search of a rumored corpse, this is a look at youthful enthusiasm and the ties of friendship set against a background of ominous events.
Here the friends are a half-dozen teens from a rustbelt town in 1979 Ohio whose love of movies has prompted them to use the eponymous technology to produce a zombie flick they hope eventually to enter in a local festival.
Presiding over their endearingly amateur endeavor is would-be auteur Charles (Riley Griffiths). Charles’ dictatorial tendencies on set are echoed in everyday life by his bossiness toward his best buddy (and makeup artist) Joe, played by Joel Courtney.
Joe’s involvement in the project helps distract him from his strained relationship with his recently widowed father Jack (Kyle Chandler), the deputy sheriff of the area’s police force, as well as from his own unresolved grief over the loss of his thoroughly devoted mom.
Charles’ relentless search for "production values" leads his team — which also includes withdrawn but comely fellow student Alice (Elle Fanning) in the role of heroine — to a nearby railroad station for a clandestine midnight shoot. But things take an unexpected turn when they witness — and their camera captures — a mysterious train accident.
Though the military arrives in force the next morning, trying to conceal the truth about the incident, the wreck sets in motion a series of odd and portentous happenings Jack is determined to investigate.
Gently handled themes of bereavement, first love and family reconciliation, meanwhile, add depth to this wry horror homage as Joe and Alice (the latter, we learn, has domestic troubles of her own) form a touching bond through their shared vulnerabilities.
These romantic elements are kept enjoyably innocent. But the steady saltiness of the onscreen ensemble’s vocabulary makes "Super 8" unsuitable viewing for their real-world contemporaries. That’s too bad because there’s much on offer here from which younger viewers might otherwise profit.
The film contains much action violence with some gore, drug use and references, several instances of profanity as well as at least one rough and many crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.