Review: Super 8

Posted June 15th, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Director J.J. Abrams crafted a marketing campaign for Super 8 that attempted to disguise much of the plot and create mystery around the monster reveal. Wanting to respect that and experience it the way it was intended I entered the film having actively tried to avoid as much information on the film as possible. Super 8 is a call-back to some great films of the past and evokes a certain level of emotion rarely touched on in today’s cinema.

Avoiding spoilers here, the story centers on a train crash that releases “something” into a small town in 1979. Really though the film is more about the kids – who are working together to make a movie at the time – being caught up in the events and the adventure that comes from it.

That train crash may have been exaggerated in its destruction but it was incredibly impressive on screen with great special effects and even better sound mixing. The atmosphere is really heavy due to the impact of the crash and the sense of unknown that has escaped.

There is the typical government conspiracy at work and family dynamic intertwined throughout. Not every aspect of Super 8 is original, in fact some could argue it is cliche-ridden and even predictable. To me however that is actually a part of the appeal in this case.

Every development didn’t need to be completely inspired back in some of the great films of the 80’s, instead it was about the emotion and realness of the moments they created. That is where Super 8 excels with some great performances from the actors, excellent direction, a fantastic score, and a touching story.

The biggest surprise was how fantastic the kids were in their roles. Joel Courtney as the primary character Joe was unbelievably natural and his love interest Alice (Elle Fanning) also provided a genuine performance. Oftentimes younger actors can completely bring down a movie but in this case they actually made it better. The supporting characters were also solid and the dialogue between the kids came across as being realistic which is always a difficult thing to pull off.

The reveal of the ‘monster’ is teased through much of the movie but its presence is felt throughout. The only thing that I would’ve liked is more of is a back-story for the creature who’s actions and the motivations behind them are never completely explained. Part of me wanted to sympathize with it for the predicament it was in but then it also committed some terrible acts which washes some of that feeling away. Ultimately I came to a conclusion which I’m satisfied with regarding the creature but it would have been nice to know if that was what Abrams was going for specifically.

The tone of the film is really what put it over the top for me as someone who grew up in the 80s and experienced movies that had a certain magical feel to them. Of course there is E.T. and The Goonies which immediately come to mind while watching Super 8 but there are many others that presented that similar feel back then and that type of film making since has largely – if not completely – disappeared.

Super 8 is an original movie in a time when sequels and adaptations have taken over the box office. The story may not hold tons of surprises – and you’ll be better off knowing very little going in – but the emotion evoked is completely genuine and that makes for a wonderful and impactful experience.

Rating: ★★★★½