Ever heard of a turducken? It’s a food item consisting of chicken and duck stuffed into a turkey; three elements that don’t exactly go together, but are delicious enough individually that the end product is a delight. I ask because J.J. Abrams‘ latest film, Super 8, is the movie equivalent of a turducken. It’s a decidedly pleasant blend of innumerable influences, compressed down and stuffed together into a package that might feel a little disjointed and bloated, but ultimately works because each element itself is so good.

Continue reading this non-spoiler review after the jump.

Writer/director J.J. Abrams has never been an easy artist to define. Whether it be with his television or film work, he’s tackled almost every genre in its own way: action, sci-fi, romance, mystery, horror and more. Super 8 is his first film that’s wholly original but, because it draws from so many other places, it kind of isn’t. The most obvious influence is that of producer Steven Spielberg. Abrams set out to make a movie that harkened back to Spielberg’s classics of the past – E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, etc. – and he’s half-successful. Visually, and frequently in tone, Super 8 is certainly Spielbergian, but the story is far more complicated and less focused than those movies. Those films centered on a single narrative, while Super 8 has a slew.

The basic gist is that a group of young filmmakers in 1979 small town America experience a huge train wreck and begin to unravels its mystery. At the heart of this story is Joe Lamb, a young boy played by newcomer Joel Courtney. He lives with his father, played by Kyle Chandler, and makes movies with his friend on super 8 film. Abrams wants us to focus on that father son relationship but the narrative of the film doesn’t really allow it. Instead, the film ends up focusing more on the simpler, more innocent relationship between Joe and Alice (Elle Fanning), a young girl who appears in the zombie movie Joe and his friends are shooting.

Once the aforementioned train wreck occurs, the simple little family-centric love story becomes an action movie with a big mystery, before evolving into other things that I wouldn’t want to spoil. All the while, Abrams’ passion spews through the mise en scene, balanced only by the drastic shifts in story. Generally, big swings like that would be a huge determent to a film but each time Super 8 changes, it’s to something else entertaining and compelling. There’s very little to dislike in the film, it’s just that, at times, it feels like Abrams is trying too hard to make sure he hits all the right notes.

Super 8 is an awesome mess of a movie. It simultaneously has no idea what it wants to be but knows exactly how to get there. It oozes with nostalgia, but still manages to surprise. It’s everything you wanted but exactly what you expected. It’s a movie that only could have been made by J.J. Abrams, but never without the tutelage of Steven Spielberg. Ultimately, the film is a microcosm for Abrams himself, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink lover of pop culture, who somehow found a way to stuff all of that passion into one movie. While its excess is its biggest flaw, Super 8 somehow remains cohesive and fun. It’s a bunch of different movies, but at least they’re good movies.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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