Super 8 Movie Review

The summer creature film that J.J. Abrams and Paramount went to great lengths to keep secret is finally revealed to the world and after sitting through SUPER 8, the burning question I’m left with is; why was this such a secret?  After stewing on it for a couple of days, I still can’t come up with an answer.  Was it an ingenious marketing ploy to get people in the theater?  Maybe, but with J.J. Abrams directing and Steven Spielberg producing, you’d think they wouldn’t have to resort to such measures.  Was it because J.J. Abrams really thought there was something super-secret about the film?  More than likely, yes.  But at the end of the day, we’re left with a creature movie.  It just happens to be a creature movie done really, really well.

Joel Courtney and Kyle Chandler in Super 8

The film revolves around five kids that are making a zombie movie to submit to a local film festival.  While filming one of the scenes, they witness a horrible train wreck.  A train wreck that should go down in film history as one of the best of all time.  But this was no ordinary train wreck; it was intentionally wrecked to release some sort of monster/alien that the government had been holding captive for their own research.  At this point, J.J. Abrams channels his inner Spielberg and the film takes a very E.T. feel in that a group of kids have to deal with the incompetence and insensitivity of all the adults they come in contact with in order to accomplish something that should seem obvious to everyone else.  But of course, in this world kids seem to figure things out quicker than adults.

Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning in Super 8

J.J. Abrams had always described this as sort of an homage to Steven Spielberg and before the film came out, I wasn’t sure what he meant by that.  I was expecting a movie full of gags and Spielberg-ian references, but was pleased to see he kept those in check.  It’s clear now that the homage to Spielberg was making a film that captured the innocence of childhood, even when bad things are happening all around you.  With films that he directed and produced in the 80’s, that was the simple staple of many Spielberg films (E.T., THE GOONIES and EMPIRE OF THE SUN, to name a few).  From the opening scene of Joe (Joel Courtney) sitting on a swing at his mother’s funeral to the final confrontation, the audience really felt like they were transported back to their childhood.  Abrams grew this tone by developing great (and flawed) characters that we could root for.

Joel Courtney and Ryan Lee in Super 8

It’s the combining of that childhood nostalgia with a creature on the run that makes SUPER 8 enjoyable, but also tends to hold it back.  When the focus is on the kids and their dialogue filled with plenty of inside-jokes, the audience is having fun and laughing along with them.  Even when they team up to rescue one of their captured friends, we feel like we did when we first watched Mikey and his crew go in search of One-Eyed Willy’s ship.  It’s not until the creature comes along that we feel like something is familiar in that didn’t-I-see-this-last-weekend kind of way.  In a film wrought with sentimentalities and nostalgia, I was disappointed that Abrams didn’t do a better job of tying in the humanity of the film with the creature part.

Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths in Super 8

But even with the film’s troubles, there was something refreshing about watching a summer blockbuster that didn’t treat the audience like they were idiots.  We knew what was coming (although I hoped it would be something more than a creature), but the slow reveal was more enjoyable than the actual payoff.  I loved the way Abrams paid homage not only to Spielberg, but to many other directors that he clearly admires (John Carpenter and George Romero to name two).  SUPER 8 is a film that should please everyone and will probably sell a lot of DVD’s of E.T. and THE GOONIES in the process.


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