Director: J. J. Abrams
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, and Joel Courtney
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Runtime: 108 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Science fiction themes, violence, coarse language and drug use

This sci-fi, adventure drama tells the story of a group of teenagers in 1979, who decide to make a movie in their home town of Lillian, Ohio. They set out to make a movie about zombie murders, and while they are filming it with their Super 8 camera, they witness a train crash. All is not well. The crash is not right, and they suspect it is not an accident. After the crash, strange things start to happen in the town which can’t be explained. People disappear, electrical equipment starts flying around, dogs desert their owners, and creepy things start occurring. The crash is investigated by the local Deputy, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler). Something inhuman was in the wreckage, and it threatens them all.

The movie is a sci-fi thriller, but it is also a film about the coming of age. Not unlike other movies coming out of Spielberg’s production studios, or directed by him, the children grow from their experience to be better and wiser people, as do their parents

The movie is from the children’s point of view. There are some comic moments and some startling scenes, including a parade of army tanks crashing through the small town, and the crashes are suitably spectacular. However, the movie misses out in being able to say exactly what the target for its final appeal is. The cargo on the train is an alien beast wanting to go back home, and it creates havoc while on the loose, and for most of the movie we see the army trying to keep its presence secret. War games happen around the children, who for the most part try and find out what is going on. It is a child’s movie set in an adult world.

The ultimate success of the movie depends on a final relationship being formed between the children and the alien. Time is needed to build up that relationship, but too little time is spent showing the friendship that had to be, and when it occurs it is not enough to carry the day. The moment of rapport is all over in two minutes. Unlike “E.T.” the contact between the children and the beast is not allowed to develop. The main impact of the film rests more in the fantasies of the group of children, than in the culmination of what happens with the train’s inhuman cargo.

Typical of a Spielberg movie, individual scenes and scenarios are spectacular, and in this respect the movie won’t disappoint. The train crash is incredibly choreographed, and Abrams uses it to build up considerable tension. The familiar elements are all there. Truth is hidden as it was in “E.T.” (1982); suspicion grows as it did in “Close Encounters of The Third Kind” (1977); and suspense about strange, aggressive creatures develops, just as it did in “Jurassic Park” (1993).

The humans supposedly in charge of the action are well chosen, and the special effects in the movie are impressive. Joel Courtney as Jackson’s son, Joe, captures the innocence of a child before adulthood looms, and Elle Fanning shows special ability as Alice Dainard in acting out the difficulties of a child, who comes from a broken home. The story unfolds dramatically through Jackson Lamb, who becomes reconciled to his son, just as the alien beast finds its way back home.

This film is classic Spielberg fare, but at the end of the day it disappoints. As with most of his movies, much depends on the relationships that are forged among those who are in it. This movie takes too long for those relationships to get going, but there is a lot of action to keep the viewer interested and involved along the way.

The film remains a fantasy journey that entertains. Under Abrams’ direction, it is a children’s movie set in someone else’s adventure world.

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