“Super 8” is a throwback to Spielberg-like sci-fi movies from the era in which the film is set. It’s a fun movie to watch, with moments of brilliance. Overall, the film is better than standard summer movie fair–good enough to be called good, but not so good as to be called great.
The movie was written and directed by J.J. Abrams who previously directed the very good 2009 version of “Star Trek” and also the TV series “Lost” and”Alias.” Steven Spielberg was one of the film’s producers.
The movie is set in a small Ohio town in 1979. A group of friends are making their own super 8 zombie movie. Charles is the young director, with many of his friends doing the acting, makeup and camera work. One night after midnight they escape their homes to film a scene at a local train station. While filming, they witness a truck crash into a passing train and the train derail in spectacular fashion. (I haven’t seen a train crash this awesome since the one in “Lawrence of Arabia,” which, by the way, featured a real train crashing.) The kids run for cover, but their super 8 camera continues to film the derailment and explosions. In the aftermath of the crash, the kids see some things which they can’t really explain. But then the military shows up, and the kids flee, not wanting to get in trouble.
Not long after the accident, unusual things start happening in town, car motors and microwaves disappear–and people too. The father of one of the young filmmakers is a local deputy who works to discover the truth. There was something on that train, something other-worldly. And now it seems to have been let loose on the town. The diurector intentionally does not reveal the true nature of the creature until later in the film, a technique which has been used in other classic films to build suspense. In addition to the main plot of the film, several subplots work well to enhance the primary story, including how Joe and his father are dealing with the recent death of Joe’s mother. There’s also a sweet and budding romance between Joe and Alice.
The young cast includes Riley Griffiths as Charles (the young director) Joel Courtney as Joe, Elle Fanning as Alice, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills and Gabriel Basso. Kyle Chandler is the deputy (Joe’s father). Ron Eldard provides a supporting performance as Alice’s father. All of the acting is generally good, though the screenplay doesn’t provide a lot of character details–just enough to move the film along.
The film demonstrates a variety of well-orchestrated camera shots and interesting lighting–all of which work to establish a “something-is-about-to-happen” type mood throughout much of the film. The music is good, but I can’t say it achieved that magical quality that Spielberg accomplished in films such as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” or “ET.” There’s also a very interesting (and I think effective) method of dialogue in the film. I call it the “let’s all talk over each other” technique. Good examples can be found in Howard Hawks-influenced classic films such as “His Girl Friday” and “The Thing from Another World.” But I also remember it being used in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,””ET,” and “Poltergeist.” Basically, it involves separately scripted lines, but the actors often begin their line before another finishes theirs; actors speak at the same time. People often speak this way in real life, and in this case, it adds a real world suburban vibe to things.
Overall, I had a lot of fun at “Super 8.” It’s a good movie that I expect most viewers will enjoy. My criticism of the film is–well, I wanted it to be more than what it was. I wanted the afore-mentioned magic that one sees in early Spielberg films. Sections of “Super 8” are brilliant. But overall, its parts don’t form a dynamic whole, and I found the pacing to be a little inconsistent. It’s plot isn’t strong enough, characters rich enough–nor it’s magic magical enough–for it to be a classic.
Rating 2.5 out of 4 stars
2011, Rated PG-13, 112 minutes, Mystery, Sci-fi, Thriller