Super 8 Review

“Production value!”

-Charles

Super 8 takes us back to a style of film making that has been long forgotten. Things like camera flare, charming child characters, camera glare, and certain types of camera tricks have been done away with in the modern film making era.  This movie goes back to the fundamental style of film making in the 1970s and 80s that inspired J.J. Abrams to become a film maker. Abrams claimed that this film was heavily inspired by the Spielberg sci-fi movies he grew up on and to ensure that this style is felt Spielberg himself produces the movie.  The other thing about this movie that has peaked the interest of film goers is the secrecy and mystery surrounding the film. Abrams has always had a habit of keeping his projects under wraps because he wants the audience to be surprised whenever they see the film. This film has held a lot of promise for a lot of different people due to the talent on the project and the the exciting mystery surrounding Super 8. Can Super 8 meet these expectations or will the film fall flat and deliver an unmemorable; unoriginal experience for audiences?

The story of Super 8 is actually pretty similar to many movies we’ve seen before. Its like E.T. meets The Goonies meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  The story isn’t so blatantly inspired by any of these films that its a ripoff, but it does borrow several plot elements from these three films as well as many other movies that were popular in the 1980s.  The film is about a boy named Joe Lamb(Joel Courtney) who is working on a movie with his  friends. He is best friends with the director Charles(Riley Griffiths) who asks Joe’s crush Alice(Elle Fanning) to star in the film. The rest of his friends are Preston(Zach Mills), Martin(Gabriel Basso), and Carey(Ryan Lee) who all have various roles in the film making.  Before I get in too far I should mention that in the beginning of the movie Joe’s mother dies in an accident when she was taking a shift from Alice’s father Louis(Ron Eldard) at the local factory. When she died Joe’s father Jackson(Kyle Chandler) blames Louis for the accident. This is worth mentioning because it weighs in heavy in the chemistry between Joe and Alice throughout the film. The kids eventually make their way down to an old train station to film their movie. While filming they witness a truck driving head on into an incoming train. The train wrecks(and when I say wreck I mean its like the attack on Pearl Harbor) and something breaks out of the cargo.  The military then shows up and begins investigating the incident. The movie unfolds from there as we see these characters unravel the mystery of what was in the cargo and what it wants. Its a suitable story that gets the job done and also manages to have a 1980s feel to it mostly in how it is executed. There are many times that you really do feel as though you are watching an old school sci-fi movie.

The thing about this movie is that its really the characters that are the most important part of the movie. Its the interaction between these kids that makes this movie so much fun to watch. There are times when you laugh at their silliness but also times when you see their pain and their struggles they are dealing with in life. The film does a tremendous job at allowing you to see these great innocent kids deal with each other and their problems in ways that a kid actually would. I think that is something that struck a chord with me. I feel like children have been poorly portrayed in recent movies as either dumb, shallow, too innocent,  or 2 dimensional. Super 8 makes me believe that these kids are kids. They have real problems, they have real emotions, they feel real. I definitely feel like these very young actors and actresses are what made this movie so I definitely applaud Abrams and the cast for giving such great performances. These kids all grow in some way or another from what they experience in the film and it is very evident. Even though the promotional material for this movie has been about what the creature is or what all of the mystery is; make no mistake this is definitely a character driven film about a group of kids and their town. The mystery and the creature are all just a way for these characters to grow. Aside from the child actors we do get some great performances from the other two major adult characters. Both Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard do formidable jobs at playing supporting roles as parents. Kyle Chandler plays the father of Joe who is mourning but still wanting to support his son and be the deputy of the town while Ron Eldard plays the Louis who is also very depressed and drunk as he blames himself for the accident that killed Joe’s mother but still wishes to be a good father to his daughter Alice. The interaction between the two actors is great and to see how their animosity between each other affects their kids who begin to develop a relationship. I would say that the strongest part of the movie is the acting and character work.

The other side of the film is the mystery of the creature that is terrorizing the town and the military that is hunting it. In many ways this side of the film is the weak side of it, but it still succeeds on many levels. I do not wish to spoil too much about the mystery of the film so forgive me if my critiques come across as a bit vague.  The creature remains out of sight for almost the entire movie and it is not until the final act that it makes its grand appearance. I was perfectly fine with this but I know that to many film goers it will seem drug out. Like the Spielberg movie Jaws, Super 8 is more about the build up and the anticipation of the creature than it is about actually seeing it. The movie is constantly feeding the audience bread crumbs on the creature  until they finally get bigger and bigger. You get to see bits of the monster and you get to see what it is doing but Abrams makes sure you never see too much until the very end. I liked this approach because it gave to characters more time develop, but for people who are going to see this for the monster may be very disappointed.  There are several other mysteries besides the monster that all tie into the odd things happening in this town that eventually get answered. I love the pacing of this movie because it really does feel like an Abrams film, but still maintains the 1980s feel. In the first act there are several mysteries and questions that are sprung through the audience and slowly but surely through the second and third acts they are answered. Again, this could be a turn off to many people, but it definitely caught and held my attention for the duration of the movie. The thing that makes the mysteries and the monster story the weak link is that we’ve all seen it before. Although I commend Abrams for trying to recreate the Spielberg style sci-fi movie for modern audiences, he still fails to realize that part of what made Spielberg’s films great is that they hadn’t been done before and were therefore more surprising. While trying to keep the tone of Spielberg, Abrams still manages to give us a monster that makes the third act down right predictable. Once you get all of the pieces of the puzzle laid out in front of you in the first two acts of the movie it makes it very, very easy to figure out the motive of the monster, what it wants, and what will happen to it. The mystery is intriguing but once you get a key bit of information on the motive of the monster and the motive of the military its not hard to see where things are going. To  those film goers who haven’t see several of Spielberg’s earlier films maybe they will be surprised, but as a person who has seen most of the classic sci-fi films from that era this is an ending that doesn’t innovate at all nor does it hold the glimmering nostalgia that Abrams was hoping to recapture with the final act. That being said I found the final scene of the movie to be very emotional. Even though it is clearly a homage to E.T I still got quite a bit emotional seeing all of the characters resolve as they all came back together.

Overall I would definitely say that Super 8 is a good movie that succeeds on many levels. Little things like camera tricks, camera flare, and lighting effects really make this film feel like it could have been made 30 years ago. The movie delivers some great characters in the group of friends making a movie. It was something that really resonated with me personally(I used to try and make movies with my friends over the summers).  It was great to see that there are directors like Abrams and there are actors like the cast that can still show what terror and pain in the life of a kid is like. If there is one thing Abrams was truly able to recapture from the Spielberg era sci-fi movies it was interesting kid characters. The movie doesn’t fail on its promise to allow those of use who grew up on 1980s style sci-fi movies to relive the experience and it doesn’t fail to give us an interesting mystery that is compelling all the way until the final act. This movie may not be without its flaws but I would highly recommend it to anyone who has nostalgia with 1970s and early 80s style film making.  To people who don’t have that nostalgia the movie is still good and still entertaining and still worth the money even if you won’t enjoy it as much as those with nostalgia. I would also point out that this is the only movie this summer that is not directly based on a source material or is a sequel. I would hope that alone might motivate you to check this movie out.

Story: 8.5

Super 8 has a fairly simple story that happens to be quite mysterious despite the simplicity. It recaptures the feel of Spielberg era movies that J.J. Abrams was inspired by quite well and will charm some of the older viewers with many stylistic homages to classic 80s sci-fi.

Character/Acting: 9.5

I really felt for these characters and I really liked all of them. The actors were very believable in their roles as kids. They may have been immature but there was a great amount of depth to the struggles they faced before and after the train wreck. The adult actors also do a formidable job at playing very flawed but caring parents.  This movie is a great reminder to me of why child actors used to be charming and not annoying. I hope that future movies that feature a primary cast made of kids looks at this film as a model of how to do characterization and casting for kids correctly. 

Direction: 8.5

I think that for the most part Abrams succeeds in everything he was trying to do. I really did feel as though I was watching a movie that very well could have been made 30 years ago and I did feel a great since of nostalgia seeing something that felt familiar but new. Abrams is very successful at drawing great performances from the actors and actresses. The whole look and feel of the movie is on par with what I would expect with Abrams. The only thing that I think he didn’t take into account is that in writing the third act he didn’t think to try and make things a little more surprising.

Overall Effectiveness of the Film: 7.5

The movie does succeed in creating a nostalgic experience while giving a new generation an idea of what it was like to watch movies in the late 70s and early 80s. This film is a period piece in a sort of way as it is able to capture what it was like to live in a small town during this time period. The movie does have quite a bit of mystery and is well paced in revealing the answers to the questions the audience will most likely have. The only real problem I have with the film is that the final act seems a bit predicable and maybe a little bit anticlimatic. That aside this is a great movie to check out if you’re tired of super hero movies and sequels.

Overall Score: 8

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