When the 2011 movie Super 8 hit theaters, I saw lots of jokes online about how Super 8 was essentially E.T. (1982) with lens flares. Now that I’ve seen this movie that J.J. Abrams wrote and directed, I can’t really think of a good argument against the critical jab at this movie. But to its credit, it has a great feeling of nostalgia.
In the summer of 1979, a group of 13-year-old boys set out to make a zombie movie on their Super 8 mm film camera. Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is still grieving the recent loss of his mother, but still agrees to help his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) shoot a movie. They enlist the help of Alice (Elle Fanning), an older girl who drives them to shooting locations and acts as their film’s leading lady. While shooting a scene at a train station at night, they witness a horrible train crash caused by a truck driving towards the train on the track. Narrowly escaping with their lives, the kids return home agreeing to never speak of the event. The next morning the Air Force is prowling around their little town and cleaning up the train wreckage. Over the next couple of days, unusual disappearances and inexplicable events begin taking place all over town. Pet dogs are found many miles away from town, people disappear, microwaves and car engines go missing, gas stations are wrecked, etc. The local Deputy Sheriff Jack Lamb (Kyle Chandler), Joe’s distant and depressive father, tries to uncover the truth to no avail. Once Charles’s film is finally developed they find that their footage caught something on camera that doesn’t appear to be from Earth.
J.J. Abrams is known for the TV series Lost and the movies Mission: Impossible III (2006) and Star Trek (2009). Super 8 is his first original film; not a sequel or reboot of a previously established film franchise. It seems as though Abrams hasn’t quite developed his own style yet and sought too much advice from the film’s producer Stephen Spielberg. A lot of Super 8 feels like a nostalgic early Spielberg movie in terms of character, setting, and even some camera work. Don’t misunderstand; I love Spielberg and his movies. It just seems like Abrams felt too insecure about his own story and directing, that the big name producer’s input over-insinuated itself in the movie.
Super 8 has an oft over-used story element where the kids have found something important and are piecing the puzzle together and the parents refuse to listen to them. When this is done poorly, it makes the characters and story unrealistic, glorifying children as something more than their stage of development would merit and making experienced adults appear abnormally stupid and narrow-minded. Super 8 did it the right way. The kids are obviously in over their heads, they are scared (one kid even throws up regularly when frightened), they don’t have the ability to oppose the powers that be, they lack experience to know how to handle these situations, and they try to tell the adults who would be better suited for the task. The kids act like kids in every realistic way. I have to praise Abrams for that. And the adults aren’t listening to the kids because they don’t take the kids seriously. They are in the middle of a crisis, everyone is panicking and the adults don’t want to stop and hear about what the kids found on their camera.
While Super 8 has some great CGI and a great train derailment scene, the movie focuses more on the human drama between the characters. I like a good character driven story, but the characters aren’t that deep or complex. Some of the characters are given one or two shticks that are reiterated every time they are on screen. This is occasionally funny, such as the borderline pyromaniac kid who is supposed to be in charge of their film’s special effects and explosions. The kid actors do a decent job with their roles, but they aren’t going to win Oscars for it. Because the characters are simple and some even cliché, the character drama isn’t always captivating. That, compounded by the fact that the good action scenes are few and far between, only makes the movie drag out longer than is necessary.
All in all, Super 8 was an okay movie. It seems to be made for adults to remind them of movies they loved as kids. This isn’t something I’d show to young audiences; there’s a lot of intense frightening imagery, profanity (mostly from the kids), violence, and drug use to truly be a family film. People die in this movie, and the kids are constantly in peril. If you liked E.T., The Goonies (1985), Star Trek, or Mission: Impossible III you’ll probably enjoy Super 8. I did like it, but not enough to want to own a copy of. It’s a good renter.
What did you think of Super 8? Did you like it? Was it more than just “E.T. with lens flare?” Comment below and tell me why!