Who's In It: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Joel McKinnon Miller
The Basics: In the interest of preserving the intrigue created by the promotional team at Paramount, this first paragraph will only use key words related to the film: children, train crash, monster, military. Thank you for bringing suspense back to trailers for this one, ad guys. Now I have to use the rest of these paragraphs to undo all your hard work.
What's The Deal: This movie was at the top of my list for Must Sees of the Summer, because even after seeing two trailers, I had no idea what it was really about. When I finally found myself 10 minutes into the film, I felt uncomfortable. It occurred to me that I was being manipulated into feeling the same kind of emotions that came from my favorite movies of days gone by. I made a quick decision to no longer be adult Grae with a bank account and the ability to eat cookies whenever I want. I had to regress back to my 10-year-old self, full of awe and wonder (and a weird phobia of running around in wet grass with bare feet). That kid loved the film and clapped and gasped and was wrapped up in the mystery. As my return to youth fades away, I see the movie a mixed bag that could have been better. Ultimately, the problems don't outweigh a fun first couple of acts and a decent ending.
Déjà View: A lot of what we see today, depending on how generous you are, is either an homage or ripoff of something we've seen before. Unless the movie hooks me with something new enough to distract from how derivative it is, I start thinking of all the older, better movies I would rather be watching. This movie walks dangerously close to the line, since it is impossible to ignore the entertainment giants behind it. Writer/director J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek) brought his knack for intriguing plots that drag you along without giving you much information, along with a moderately satisfying ending. Producer Steven Spielberg (E.T., A.I. Artificial Intelligence) brought children with soulful eyes and heart-string-tugging family issues. Together, they created a movie that felt way too familiar--but at least it was done by the people who have done it best, I guess.
Never Say Die: The most important part of the movie is firmly in place here, which is the chemistry between the kids. Joe (Courtney) and Charles (Griffiths) are complete newcomers, but you would never know it from watching them. They hold their own against alums like Elle Fanning (Somewhere) and Zach Mills (Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium). I loved the dialogue between them--it felt smart but not overly sophisticated, reminiscent of The Goonies. See what I mean about the movie being new-but-not?