Every once in a while, Hollywood treats us to a movie that isn’t a sequel, isn’t a squeakquel, isn’t based off a comic book and isn’t an adaptation of an existing work. Sometimes they give us a movie that feels original, even if it isn’t; a movie that screams “I am an homage to your childhood greats, and you will love me because I am unique enough to set them lovingly behind.” Ladies and gentlemen, Super 8 is that film.
In the small town of Lillian, Ohio, five young boys and one young girl are filming a zombie movie for a local cinema contest. The boys are filming a departure scene when a train speeds past (“Production value!” the director screams). Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) watches as a pickup truck meets the train head on, derailing it in a cacophony of explosions and near misses for the children. Joe watches a rail car mysteriously break open after coming to a stop. The kids hightail it out of there before the military shows up. Strange things begin happening in Lillian, dogs start running away, cars lose their engines, and people begin disappearing. When Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) disappears, Joe gets the boys to help him find her and try to save the town.
J.J. Abrams has my attention. I would probably watch anything he produces, directs, writes after watching Super 8. He just makes things so interesting. I have to compare Super 8 with the other two films of his that I have seen Cloverfield and Star Trek.
Like Cloverfield, Super 8 contains a very disproportionate amount of no-name actors. The only actor I recognized played the evil Captain Nellic (Noah Emmerich), but J.J. has gathered some very impressive young ones. Joe Lamb is the title character, a boy who has just lost his mom and has no connection with his police officer dad Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler). Joe is friends with Cary, Preston, Charles, Martin; movie making buddies, the biggest of which (in size and attitude) being Charles, the director. All are fantastic with many hilarious lines that all sounded like they would come out of the mouth of a 12-year-old. Charles invites Alice played by Elle Fanning to join their zombie movies, which creates an awkward love triangle between Joe, Charles and her but I won’t go into that. There’s also a relationship between her dad and Joe’s dad but I won’t spoil that. Anyways, Elle is fantastic, wayyyy better than Dakota, who spends most of her time screaming in every film I remember seeing. Super 8 is the new Stand By Me for child actors. I expect great things from these kids in the future.
Like Star Trek, Super 8 has fantastic visual effects, and fantastic actors. I guess it’s only like Cloverfield because you don’t see the monster for most of the movie. The train crash is by far one of the most exciting things to be seen by my eyeballs. Add to that the extra bass that Regal Cinemas charged me three extra dollars for (thanks guys, you are the best) had me bouncing in my seat like an overjoyed toddler. Beautiful CGI mixed with actual explosions, the boy in me was satisfied. With just a $50 million dollar budget, Super 8 went above and beyond other more expensive films (I’m looking at you Battle: LA).
Super 8 may feature kids as the main characters, but it treads very close to an R-rating. The pacing of the film and the scant glances of the alien add to a sense of dread and horror throughout. Add some gore and you’ve got a film for adults, not kiddos. Even when you’ve seen the beast (the terrifying, pants wetting bus scene) it still is scary a scene later because you didn’t get a good enough look.
Unfortunately, the alien resembles the Cloverfield monster a bit too much. It had a bit more human touch to it, but I looked around mouthing “Really? It’s just a smaller one.” Maybe Super 8 is a prequel.
Lies, Super 8 is way better, but it has an air of predictability. I called who was going to die in the first ten minutes. I called how it was going to end, very little of it surprised me. And they force fed the theme of the movie at the very end; I choked on that bit of cheesiness.
But boy, did it entertain me. Characters I truly cared about, actors and actresses impressing me at every level, visual effects that dazzled and the genius pairing of J.J and Stephen. There is a lot of Spielberg in Super 8 but there is enough J.J. to make it wholly his (including the lens flare deal from Star Trek). Super 8 is pretty super. An original (ish) idea that translates perfectly to the screen, I wouldn’t miss this film for a thousand sequels.
3 and a 1/2 out of 4 stars