On May 2010 I was nestled in a crowd of many awaiting the latest Iron Man when a particular trailer of unknown origin appeared. This purposefully ambiguous trailer would of course be Super 8, JJ Abrams second stab at the secret viral marketing game. I like many had fallen into the web of rumors that surrounded the Abrams’ produced Cloverfield, so I could already tell I would be a victim to the hype of Super 8. Time passed and little information surfaced until it was more or less made official that this would be a sci-fi flick and that the monster would in fact be an alien. That’s all well and good but it was not until I was made aware of Spielberg’s importance and involvement that I really got excited. A nostalgic tribute to some of the greatest sci-fi/fantasy flicks ever forged? How could I not get excited, but deep inside I knew there was no movie that could ever fully satisfy my expectations.
Plain and simple, Super 8 adds virtually nothing to this immensely popular genre, but just because something isn’t original doesn’t mean it has no entertainment value. Super 8 is sure fire entertainment for the summer crowds, but little more than that. Tragically it fails to live up to the same kind of wonderment, soul and heart of such Spielberg classics as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but it definitely marks an effort. Super 8 has a handful of top notch moments with a talented young cast and some exciting sequences, but the message is cliche and predictable with very few if any surprises. I went into this movie expecting to be taken on a wondrous ride of twists and turns, but was instead treated to a fairly formulaic film, a well made film but very formulaic.
It’s the summer of 1979 (made very clear by the film’s soundtrack) as we follow a young group of fledgling filmmakers trying to actualize their dream monster movie. Our central protagonist Joe (Joel Courtney) is a talented but shy makeup artist still quietly recovering from the unfortunate death of his mother, blamed on the carelessness of the town screwup Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard). Hoping to enter their film in a Cleveland film festival, the group invites the pretty yet slightly rebellious Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) to be a part of their film. Butterflies are flapping all about inside a love struck Joe until the children’s project is quickly interrupted by a disastrous train incident. What builds from here is a series of puzzling questions, disasters, and other extraterrestrial phenomena that eventually falls into the hands of our young heroes and this is not a burden to be taken lightly.
So enough of that, let’s touch on the cast of characters, long story short their great. All the kids are likable, relatable, and wonderfully played by their respective actors. Standouts are easily Elle Fanning as Joe’s crush Alice and Riley Griffiths as the gang’s temperamental perfectionist director Charles. Though really all the kids have their moments with some equally entertaining adult actors as well. Kyle Chandler as Joe’s father the deputy has that great kind of expression that can effortlessly transition from soft to stern, though unfortunately most of his screen time is relegated to commands with an unfortunate lack of personal moments. Which reminds me, what exactly is the emotional core of this film?
Without spooling anything it seems to be a film about learning to let go. Though an even more pressing matter that seems to be brushed over is the rift between Joe and his dad. Here we can see a father and son torn apart by tragedy only to be brought together by what, an alien attack? There’s nothing shown in this sequence of events to show that the father will act any different to his son in all the aftermath. Of course they hug and and embrace and apologize and all that sentimental stuff, but were never really shown that this stern father has learned anything. Maybe he learns to forgive the man who he blamed for his wife’s death, but with the lack of dialogue between him and his son and the lack of an epilogue, I really don’t know where they stand. Basically that’s a key plot element that left me unfulfilled, but I have a few comments geared towards the alien as well.
It’s pretty hard to show audiences anything new, so there was pretty much nothing Abrams could’ve done to surprise us with the final reveal of the alien, but maybe that’s just the thing. Maybe there is something he could’ve done to take us by surprise but none of us know what it is, after all if we knew what that thing was then it wouldn’t be surprising. Though I really wish there could of been something unexpected in Super 8, I mean why make it if you can’t think of anything new? That’s a little harsh but I think there’s a lot of truth to that. So what we are given is a fairly conventional alien plot with a less than spectacular alien. I didn’t mind Abram’s Cloverfield monster so much but this thing doesn’t really look like anything. It really does look like they just went with the first doodle they could think of and then called it a day. I’m still not sure what exactly I was even looking at, was it a muscular bug? It certainly had a lot of limbs and I could swear I saw a tentacle one time. You see they should of done one of two things; 1. they could of made it as simple as possible with merely one unique feature (like E.T. and his extendable neck) or 2. the look of the monster could of somehow been referential to a previous detail in the movie, so people could understand the relevance of it’s features within the context of the film. Ok, so that second option is a little vague, but at least I’m trying to justify the alien’s appearance and that’s more than they did.
Though in the grand scheme of everything what’s my main beef with Super 8? Not that it’s not a good movie, just that it’s not as good as it should’ve of been. With the quality of the personnel involved and the exciting concept, this movie should’ve made more of an effort to make it’s presence known. Aside from the delightful idea of aspiring filmmakers it has not a single original bone in it’s body and that disappoints me. I appreciate that Abrams is making the kind of film’s he’d like to see rather then what Hollywood demands, but he’s really got to go that extra mile if he wants to make his mark on the genre.