Monday movie review: Super 8

Without being a reboot or remake, Super 8 is a strongly nostalgic movie. It hearkens back to a previous era, circa 30 years ago, when sci-fi films were infused with a sense of wonder. Encounters with the extra-terrestrial were still nerve-wracking but they were often simultaneously a way for distinctly normal people to come to terms with problems in their lives – losing a loved one, coping with divorce; the transition from carefree childhood to consequence-heavy adulthood.

This branch of cinematic sci-fi has seemingly withered in popularity over the decades. Cynical audiences have rejected its focus on feeling and insistence on optimistic endings; gravitating instead towards dark, nihilistic tales like Blade Runner and super-slick, CGI-heavy films like Avatar and Tron: Legacy – where visual spectacle is clearly the filmmakers’ priority above anything else. In this context, Super 8 is a breath of fresh air.

Set in 1979, with an authentic look to match, Super 8 comes across as a blending of Stand By Me, The Goonies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, more recently, Cloverfield. Out of interest, Super 8’s writer-director J. J. Abrams produced Cloverfield, while Super 8’s producer is none other than Close Encounters’ helmer Steven Spielberg himself. So the filmmakers involved in Super 8 are really drawing on their past work for this one.

Super 8 centres on 14 year old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), who is struggling to cope with the accidental death of his mother. Unable to turn to his emotionally repressed father (Kyle Chandler), Joe finds solace filming a zombie movie on Super 8 mm film with his best friend, Charles (Riley Griffiths) and their oddball crew. One night while scooting on location though, the teens witness a mysterious train derailment that immediately has the US Air Force swarming all over their small town. Then the disappearances start…

In an age where Hollywood insists troubled teenagers are gorgeous chiselled creatures like Alex Pettyfer, it’s refreshing to see such down-to-earth, completely normal (OK, slightly dorky) kids as the focus of a film again. Joe and his friends are relatable and decent. There are no tantrums, no smart mouthing, no posing and preening. This is probably the most enjoyable thing about Super 8 – its sincerity.

The film works in other areas as well. The alien encounters/attacks are enjoyably intense and the train wreck sequence is incredibly well done. It’s also possible to appreciate the filmmakers’ decision to keep the creature visually obscured until its reveal close to the end of the movie. And apart from one E.T-esque moment, the alien’s character design makes it abruptly clear that the audience is looking at an otherworldly monster as opposed to something reassuringly, and relatably, humanoid.

It’s a bit disappointing that the cheese inevitably gets slapped on thick and fast during Super 8’s final act. Feuds end, friends stand together and characters let go of life-stalling grief. It’s all deserving of a few eye rolls but seeing as it’s pretty much how this type of movie achieves resolution, it’s not unexpected. Still though, if you prefer your sci-fi entertainment tender and character-focused for the most part, as opposed to 2 hours of unrelenting sound and fury, I can recommend this well-crafted meeting of coming-of-age tale and monster mystery.


nessie said…
I LOVED this movie for most of the reasons you covered in this post. It had a distinctly Stephen King feel for me, with the kids being the modern-day 'Losers' of IT. I loved how real the characters were and the train scene was excellent.
James Preston said…
Outstanding review! Ever since I saw the teaser trailer in 2010, knowing Abrams and Spielberg were behind this, I have been chomping at the bit to see this movie. This review makes me even more amped! I better get my act together coz it'll be off circuit soon. Great review. Thanks.

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