As the lights dimmed Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the current iteration of the long running sci-fi franchise, walked on stage and the crowd went suitably wild.
It wasn’t just sci-fi geeks wearing Star Trek tops getting excited, but a more mixed crowd that saw film fans of all ages. (Although the conductor came out for the second half of the concert wearing a yellow James T. Kirk top!)
This perhaps being a reflection of how Abrams’ latest films have refreshed the long running saga for a mainstream audience whilst honouring the traditions set down by Gene Rodenberry’s TV in the 1960s and the subsequent spin-offs.
Although these kind of musical events have been done before, they seem to be part of a new kind of theatrical experience which is seeks to get people back into cinemas in different ways.
I had never experienced a ‘live-to-score’ screening before and it was quite something to behold: wonderful sound, a huge screen and an iconic venue all made for an absorbing night.
It helped that the venue was sold out (and not just by Star Trek fans) and there was a good atmosphere, but it was also interesting to observe the musicians from the 21st Century Orchestra playing their instruments in-sync with the movie.
At times, it was difficult to decide what to watch: the film unfolding on screen or the musicians playing beneath them.
Ultimately, a mixture of the two was probably what I ended up doing, but it was a tribute to the musicianship of the orchestra that it was perfectly in sync, as there was no margin for error.
There was the added treat of introduction from Simon Pegg (Scotty), Michael Giacchino (composer) and J.J. Abrams (director), the latter getting a particularly large round of applause as he had just come from the set of his latest film (which also has the word ‘Star’ in the title).
Perhaps J.J. might be back sometime for a live to screening of that, but in the meantime I’d love to see Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), whose climax famously takes place at the Albert Hall.
Set in Ohio during 1979, it tells the story of a teenage boy named Joe (Joel Courtney) and his group of friends who accidentally discover strange things happening in their small town whilst making a movie using a Super 8 camera.
After witnessing a spectacular train crash, quickly covered up by the US army, Joe has to deal with his lawman father (Kyle Chandler), his filmmaking buddies led by Charles (Riley Griffiths), a classmate named Alice (Elle Fanning), and a series of increasingly mysterious events.
In a summer filled with remakes and sequels, this singular project sees director J.J Abrams blend his love for the original series of The Twilight Zone with the Spielberg films that enchanted him as a young man.
For a major studio like Paramount, this is an unlikely summer tent-pole release as it isn’t based on a pre-existing property (or is it?) and there are no star names attached.
The end result is an entertaining love letter to the era in which Abrams grew up but also to the movies and TV shows which inspired him to become a storyteller.
Whilst the bedrock is a coming-of-age tale, it also mixes sci-fi and family drama with the kind of mystery and wonder that Abrams and Spielberg have both specialised in during their careers in film and television.
Spielberg is a producer on the film and reportedly had significant creative input into the script and final movie (it is even co-produced under his iconic Amblin’ banner), which is kind of like Paul McCartney teaming up with a Beatles tribute band.
Indeed, Super 8 is so intentionally marinated in Spielberg tropes that it is almost difficult to categorise.
Is it a homage? A cinematic mashup? Perhaps one analogy would be to say that it is a filmic remix of Spielberg’s greatest hits by Abrams.
It certainly draws deeply from Spielberg’s early blockbusters but also on other films he wrote and produced in that period when he established himself as Hollywood’s boy wonder.
(Spielberg fans will have fun spotting many other little details and references to his work)
Some people might level the accusation that Abrams and Spielberg have combined to just rip off and revisit the latter’s movies, but it is to their credit that they have actually crafted something new, whilst remaining respectful to those original works.
Perhaps the neatest trick of Super 8 is that it remembers that despite their spectacle, Spielberg’s early films had a rich vein of emotion that flowed from memorable characters.
Opening with an scene of eloquent sadness, the film is grounded in real life and even if some fantastical things later happen, it is all about how these events affect the characters and their relationships.
A good deal of this comes from the two young actors who anchor this film brilliantly.
Newcomer Joel Courtney has just the right amount of innocence and spirit in what is essentially the lead role, whilst his chemistry with Elle Fanning is both believable and charming.
She too is really quite something, conveying complex emotions with an ease rare for actors her age. One sequence early on, as she rehearses a scene for the Super 8 film-within-the-film, has shades of Naomi Watts’ audition in Mulholland Drive (2001).
The other actors round out the film nicely, with Riley Griffiths, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso and Ryan Lee making up an engaging patchwork of friends and budding filmmakers.
In the token adult roles, Kyle Chandler as Joe’s police officer father and Toby Emmerich as the military commander are OK without bringing the house down, but perhaps that’s a by product of having so much focus on the kids.
It is also worth noting that for all his obsession with sci-fi spectacle Abrams (like early Spielberg) is deft at handling the little character touches, whether it be an extra talking on a payphone or revealing background visual details.
His recent reboot of Star Trek (2009) worked wonderfully because of this kind of attention to character and place and the same is true of Super 8.
The production design, cinematography and tone are all remarkably authentic to the vibe of the period and DP Larry Fong creates widescreen images that seem to curb his director’s occasional instincts to frame the action like he’s still working in television.
Ben Burtt’s sound design is also very effective, especially during the action set-pieces, which simultaneously keeps things real whilst also giving certain scenes a requisite fantastical lift.
One major caveat is that the visual effects sometimes feel overdone for key scenes, but that could be a case of the production needing to spend its allocated budget.
This is especially true as the film enters its final act and the compulsion to introduce big set-pieces threatens to drown out the carefully constructed tone of the film.
But even here Abrams deploys his secret weapon in composer Michael Giacchino, who is fast becoming one of the best of his generation after establishing himself with TV shows such as Lost and winning awards for his work on Pixar movies like Up.
As you might expect his work here deliberately channels Spielberg’s regular composer John Williams, but he also manages to weave in his own blend of melodies, which give the final sequences a special emotional kick.
It is difficult to discuss much of the plot without giving away spoilers, but despite some problems with the latter stages, it was very hard not to exit the film smiling.
Some might feel this whole project is simply an exercise in nostalgia, but it manages to be more than just a retread of Spielberg’s work by tapping in to the essence of what made them successful.
By mining the magic of a previous era, Super 8 reminds us that the simple pleasures of summer movies, like character and emotion, are often the most rewarding.
Super 8 is out now in the US and opens in the UK on Friday 5th August