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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: J.J. Abrams’ ‘Super 8’ Is Super Great

This powerful film combines suspenseful action with character development

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman |

3 Stars — Powerful

The strength of J.J. Abrams’ work lies in his storytelling ability. As an experienced writer (Lost — 114 episodes) and an imaginative director (Star Trek), Abrams is a master at weaving good character development with science fiction. Super 8 is a wonderful example of both his writing and directing skills.

Understanding that science fiction is as much about the characters as it is about the aliens, Abrams introduces us to Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) on the day of his mother’s funeral. Lost in his grief, we hear the concern of their neighbors that his father won’t be able to care for him. As a sheriff’s deputy, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) has been consumed with his work and truly doesn’t know his son.

We are also introduced in this opening scene to Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard). When Dainard comes to the house after the funeral, Deputy Lamb inexplicably throws him off his property. This tension is amplified when Joe begins a relationship with Dainard’s daughter, Alice (Elle Fanning), a love that is forbidden by both of their fathers.

The title of the film comes from Joe’s friend Charles (Riley Griffiths), who is using his parents’ Super 8 camera to make a horror film. They are joined by Cary (Ryan Lee), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Preston (Zach Mills). Sneaking out in the middle of the night to film at an isolated train station, they are there when a catastrophic wreck of a military train exposes them to a world-class danger.

We won’t share what the danger is or how these young teenagers are instrumental in saving the world, but the tale is inventive and yet familiar. From the Romeo and Juliet romance and the evil military colonel to the compassionate scientist and the misunderstood monster, and from the ingenuity and courage of children to the power of love, the themes are familiar. But the imaginative way in which these familiar themes come together works very well.

Super 8 is a film we recommend, but it should be noted that the language and suspense are not suitable for children, which is why it earned its PG rating.


» The power of this story lies in its matching human and science fiction tension. Do you think both are resolved in effective ways? Why or why not?

» The choice to make the alien a blend of the demonic with arachnid reaches into the primal fears we all share. Do you think this makes the film more or less impactful? Why?

» Although the alien is a threat, it is explained that this was the result of the way he was treated by the military. How would you want our military to treat an alien?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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