Review: Super 8

To borrow a quote from a friend, "Michael Bay wishes he was J.J. Abrams." Bay is the tin man of Hollywood, who wishes his films had a heart; while J.J. Abrams is able to interject enough heart in his films to spare. In Super 8, he puts those talents to work, creating a kid-centric homage to his mentor, Steven Spielberg. It really seems that both Spielberg and Abrams tapped into the filmic dreams of their respective childhoods to create Super 8, a monster movie unlike any other.

It seems pretty natural for the two of them to pair up, for 20 years ago Spielberg, impressed by Abrams' own super 8 films that he made in his early teens, hired him to organize Spielberg's personal collection of 8mm personal films. Their mutual passion for gritty bare bones filmmmaking really came out through the characters and tone of the film. 

Super 8 is set in the Ohio steel town of Lillian in 1979. The setting and atmosphere of the film really calls to mind films like The Goonies, Stand By Me and Spielberg's own Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Kids racing around on bicycles, an ominous shadowy threat, and eager young kids wanting to find the truth, reek of Spielbergian flare and 50s monster flicks. Lamb (newcomer Joel Courtney), distraught at the sudden death of his mother in a smelting accident and emotionally disconnected with his father (Kyle Chandler), is bonded to his friends through filmmaking.

Director and driving force behind the kid's projects is Charles (Riley Griffiths), a portly and spirited auteur of their zombie film in the making. Charles recruits Alice (Elle Fanning), a tomboy coping with her alcoholic father, as the female lead for their film, and Joe is instantly smitten.  It's not hard to see why as Fanning delivers an absolutely inspiring performance that takes the movie in unexpected directions. Their filming goes smoothly until, while filming near a train station, a passing train is derailed by an oncoming pickup truck and crashes in a fiery explosion of awesomeness; a scene that is almost as beautiful as it is jarring.

In an interesting twist, numerous times in interviews, Spielberg has cited that one of the first defining moments that inspired him to be a filmmaker was the train crash in The Greatest Show on Earth. He was so inspired in fact, that as a kid he tried to recreate the scene with his own model train set. Well, it seems with Abrams as a vessel, he finally got his chance to recreate it on the big screen.

After the dust settled, Joe notices a shadowy figure escape from the wrecked train, and shortly after strange things begin happening all over the town. As the military descends on the quaint township, it's up to Joe and his friends to finish their movie and solve the mystery of what’s causing all these disturbances. One of the best parts of the film is the way it toys with the presages; one instance being when Joe goes to put up a poster for his lost dog only to find dozens of posters all put up. The film is filled with a great balance between the relationships between the kids and the ominous mystery that lies over the town.

Abrams and Spielberg aren't always synchronized throughout the film, as cheesy scenes of the kids staring up at the sky lack the gravity needed for the moment. Abrams also has a knack for adding plot twists that go nowhere and that is no different here, though the heart of the story keeps the plot on track. While Cloverfield was a monster movie without a soul, Super 8 definitely has the soul of a child, and makes you really care about who these characters are and what is happening to them.

However, aside from a 'fuck' dropped in once or twice, the film had a much more childlike sensibility, in tune to the emotions of a preteen more so than the largely ineffective adults. Spielberg always had a knack for movies centered on children, and has obviously passed that knowledge onto Abrams, but only time will tell if the film will click with audiences of all ages. Super 8 is an homage not so much to a bygone time, but a bygone way of filmmmaking and a fun, palm-sweating ride the entire way.


Ratings for Super 8
Rating (out of 10 )
Overall Score
Epic Win!



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