Super 8 Review

J.J. Abrams has made a career out of making excellent films and television shows with memorable characters and complex plots that masquerade as science fiction stories. No that’s not right, they’re sci-fi narratives masquerading as character driven dramas. Whatever they are there is one thing that an Abrams production always has, emotional weight. Many modern films are about the explosion, the high-octane action set piece, or the computer generated spectacle. Abrams is, without a doubt, a modern filmmaker, but his stories almost always bring something else to the table that is too often lacking in most movies of a similar genre. What I’m talking about are well-formed characters and emotionally driven plots. In order for the spectacle to be meaningful the audience needs to care for the people in the middle of it all, the audience needs to be invested in the character’s survival and hopefully ultimate success. If Super 8 does anything right, it is this. 

I’m not going to give you a plot synopsis. I saw this movie having seen as little as humanly possible of the promotional material, and it was worth all the effort avoiding the trailers and television spots. I had no clue what was going to happen and it made the movie all the more exciting. So rather than use specific examples from the film I’ll deal in vagaries and you’ll have to take my word on a most of it.

Super 8, set in 1979, centers around a group of early teenagers in small town, America. The casting in this movie was excellent as these kids have great chemistry and operate on screen as a truly believable group of friends. At the center we have Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning). Both kids with troubled home life, the two young actors play their parts with conviction. Because of this their burgeoning young romance becomes believable and adds that emotional depth needed to ground the film and make it more meaningful.

Super 8 understands what its like to be a kid and it tells its story from the children’s perspective. When the narrative leaves them we rarely have a full understanding of what’s going on, which adds to the mystery and keys the audience in to the fact that this story is about the kids. All of the their behavior, dialogue, and actions are quite teenagery. They curse (mildly), talk over one another, get overly excited, and one of them is obsessed with fireworks. This all makes them feel like a group of childhood friends living down the block, and a few decades from you.

The mystery of Super 8 hides in the background for most of movie, but continually pushes the plot forward. Pacing is good; the film takes its time to get to the central plot, letting the audience spend time with the kids and get to know them. Then for the rest of the movie we get to see how they react to the mystery and eventually step up to the occasion.

Joe’s character is given the most emotional arc, which plays a pivotal role in the climax and finale. Like with most coming of age stories, it is relatable and it makes your heart swell. Watching him grow into his own is very enjoyable. His relationship with Alice is incredibly sweet and innocent. It is encouraging to see a story like this come out in a time where the media is constantly throwing sex in the public’s face.

In terms of film-making craft many of you will despair to witness the return of the J.J. Abrams lens flare, which was used in Star Trek enough to cover several movies. Abrams reigns it in this time around, but it’s there and it is potentially distracting. The frames are busy, with lots to pay attention to in every shot. The camera work is superb.

Micahel Giacchino proves yet again that he is the best new composer working in Hollywood. The score evokes memories of John Williams while still forging its own path.

Super 8 is pulling in a lot of comparisons to films likes Stand By MeE.T.Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Goonies. It certainly took inspiration from these. In fact Steven Spielberg served as a producer on this film, putting it under the Amblin name. Super 8 takes what worked best in these films, particularly E.T., and works it into a more modern film that should resonate with modern audiences. Super 8 is nearly pitch perfect, I cannot encourage you enough to go out and see it.