Movie Review - Super 8

JJ Abrams on the set of "Super 8"
Like with Poltergeist, this movie may have been directed by someone else, but it certainly has Steven Spielberg's finger prints all over it. This is not a bad thing. Spielberg's touch is a magical and thrilling one, and that's certainly what Super 8 is. At once, the film is silly. A little boy named Joe deals with the death of his mother by helping his friends survive an alien attack.
My first question is why is this movie set in the late 1970s. There is no practical purpose for it. Filmmaker JJ Abrams (Mission: Impossible 3 and Star Trek) is seemingly in love with that time period.
JJ Abrams wrote the screenplay, and Abrams, like many of his generation, grew up on Spielberg's movies. Abrams at one point probably wanted to do a Spielberg movie exactly. As he was putting words to paper for Super 8, Abrams could have had images and ideas of Spielberg's movies swirling in his head and infused them into his script.
Reportedly Spielberg had a lot of input in this movie's story, but if he hadn't, this film would be like catnip. The movie does appeal to a lot of Spielberg's sensibilities or at least mimics them. It's like the perfect bait for Spielberg or any Spielberg aficionado. The reason it's set in the late 1970s or early 1980s is because that's when Spielberg was in his prime. It's when Spielberg was the age that Abrams is now, so what better way to bait Spielberg and what better way to get him and his fans all nostalgic than setting the movie in that time period again.
Abrams does add his own flairs though. The film begins with a group of children who are friends who come upon something extraordinary like The Goonies (1985) or E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982), but the movie devolves into the insane action of those children running for their lives like Cloverfield (2008). Abrams builds this thing around a movie-within-a-movie. A group of children who are aspiring filmmakers stumble upon a government conspiracy. The inciting incident is a train crash that the children witness. After that, unusual things start to happen like electrical failures, metallic objects torn apart and dogs going missing. The military invades the town and eventually an alien monster appears and attacks people.
The movie, however, lost me with the train crash. It is so ridiculous and so over-the-top and so extreme that it took me out of the film. The crash went on for way too long and you see all this non-stop destruction and chaos, yet the children and their car, which was right smack dab in the path of that chaos, weren't killed or harmed at all. Last year, Tony Scott did a train movie called Unstoppable and that train couldn't be derailed by anything. Here, one small truck is able to send all of the trains cars flying off the track and flying through the air as if they were plush toys. It's unbelievable.
Despite this, the children are very winsome and cute. Like the children in all Spielberg films, they're charming, funny, and intelligent. They're all very precocious. They all get great lines of dialogue. They have great chemistry. They play well together. Each of them has his or her own distinct personality. They may be retreads of children we've seen in past Spielberg films, but the young actors perform so well that you can't help but love them.

If you remember in Spielberg's Jurassic Park, there was a scene where two young children are trapped and pitted against a monster, in that case it was a velociraptor. A similar thing occurs in Super 8. Abrams puts his children in equally if not greater situations of danger. One scene in particular puts the kids on a prison bus. The scene is chilling. It's exciting and scary and had me on the edge of my seat.
Abrams then wratches things up and puts the kids into a literal war zone, but, like with the train crash, it was simply way too over-the-top and ridiculous, and the resolution of which was weird. There is this build-up to the reveal of what the alien ultimately wants, and it's a build-up similar to that in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, only with way more action. Shyamalan didn't really think out the nature of his aliens or why they were doing what they were doing. The aliens were more or less a device to test the faith, or, resolve some issue with his characters, and I think Abrams does a similar thing here.
Abrams uses the aliens or singular alien as a device to help his characters deal with their psychological issues. He doesn't seem all that concerned with the alien's details. For example, the military apparently captured the alien back in the late 1950s, but now 20 years later, the military have no clue what it's doing or how to capture it again. For some reason, the alien was abducting people, but the movie's explanation as to why is murky, though it seems for food.
Then, at the end, there is supposed to be this E.T. bonding moment. This proves difficult because it feels so contrived. Maybe I didn't go with it because unlike E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial the alien here is not as adorable. It looks like a cross between the creature in Ridley Scott's Alien and the outer space visitors in District 9.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.


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