This is a train wreck of a movie – in the sense that there is a big train wreck which crucially affects everything that happens from then on. And it’s rather a good film.
Although directed by J J Abrahams, the producer’s seat is occupied by S Spielberg, and his influence, both direct and indirect, is plain to see. It’s a kind of cross between The Goonies and E.T., set in the 80s and featuring a gang of early adolescent kids whose passion is for film making. You can see what I mean by influence.
The two main characters are a boy, Joe, and a girl, Alice. Joe’s father is the local cop; Alice’s dad is the local heavy and layabout, whose behaviour was indirectly responsible for the death of Joe’s mother which occurs immediately prior to the beginning of the film. In other words, we have a latent Romeo and Juliet situation. Joe is part of a group of five boys who are making a zombie film. Alice is enlisted to play the token female, and displays acting skills that blow the guys’ socks off. And it is while they are filming a scene from the film late one night at a railway station, that they witness the above-mentioned train wreck.
It soon becomes clear that the train was carrying something top secret, dangerous, and potentially scary And the amateur film crew have the only footage of what happened, on their Super 8 camera. Enter the Air Force, all heavy-handed and ruthless, trying to clean up the mess that has been created, as well as locating the thing that has escaped in the crash. There are lots of chases, close shaves, glimpses of the creature and – in the final sequences – rather too much blowing things up, and setting fire to them. Spectacle briefly wins out over content.
But the reason the film is appealing is that for a large part of the running time, it focuses more on relationships, and in particular the one between Joe and Alice. Elle Fanning, sister of the hitherto better-known Dakota is Alice, and steals every scene that she’s in. I don’t know why that family has got acting genes the size of Manhattan, but she is terrific; fortunately, Joel Courtney is an endearing hero to keep her company. The rest of the cast, including the adults, are almost all played by actors even I have never seen or heard of before, which is a good thing, since it makes them more believeably ordinary and everyday. The special effects are mostly kept under control and in the service of the characters and story, and overall there is an enjoyably good-natured feel to the whole film, though I can’t see it being of much interest to an adult audience.
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