I like a sensational, spectacular, sci-fi movie done well, like when the filmmakers combine the macro—the sweeping backdrop of the cinematic preposterous—and the micro—the focus on a select few caught up in the madness. J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg understand this balance, making this alien movie both exciting and endearing, and a solid summer film.
Think Cloverfield meets E.T. Like the former, it’s a monster thriller and an alien flick but, like the latter, it’s a coming of age movie with tons of heart and comedy—and aliens.
It is the summer of 1979 in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. A group of elementary-aged filmmakers witness a brutal suicide attempt leading to a massive train crash. The next day, a battalion of Air Force officers converge upon the small town. Strange disappearances, mysterious deaths and unexplained phenomena shock the town. The kids, a scrappy bunch of misfits, slowly piece together the mystery, revealing a shocking secret.
From scene one, I was immediately drawn into and engrossed with the lives of the sextet who supply the micro aspect of the film. The acting is top-notch from very talented child actors—notably Joel Courtney, who portrays Joe Lamb. Elle Fanning is also quite good as Alice, and both leads handled the weighty material handed them with dexterity. The interactions between the children’s characters were genuine and even heart-wrenching—as when Joe and Alice try and help each other cope with the death and crippling loss of close relatives. The film delves into themes of death, single-parenthood, drunkenness, abandonment, depression, guilt and forgiveness. Here is more depth than your typical summer blockbuster.
Super 8 is character drama, first and foremost, but it is also an intense sci-fi actioner. The train collision, during the opening and played out over several minutes, was wondrous to behold, riveting and gloriously shot. The kids are caught in the middle of the action; railroad cars barrel narrowly by, hurtling like projectiles, exploding like bombs. The rest of the film is equally suspenseful and visually arresting, showcasing impressing special effects.
But the film suffers in the third act from predictability and a lapse in realism. While still entertaining, there was nothing in the movie that left me guessing, and I called the ending from miles away.
Though shallow, the plot is redeemed by constant humor, every joke hitting its mark accurately. It was consistently funny—one-liners, snappy sarcasms, hilarious sight gags breaking the tension. The laughs were a delightful break from the stress of the harrowing situations. And as a tip: don’t miss the end credits.
The score by Giacchino was unremarkable. It worked in the context of the film, the deep bass notes aiding the sense of impending doom, but none of the cues really stood out.
The other downside to the movie is the copious amount of language. For a movie with kids as main characters, the language is extremely heavy, most of it spewed from their young mouths. There was also some drug content, though this is discouraged: when one character gets “so stoned,” another runs away screaming, “drugs are so bad.”
Super 8 is a solid movie. The micro elements are fantastic, the interactions genuine, the emotions raw and the ending redemptive. The macro elements are strong, visually captivating and technically wonderful; they suffer from a lackluster third act, but slightly. It’s got micro and macro; it’s an almost perfect summer film.