Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

Movie Review: Super 8

Posted on: June 11, 2011

While the Air Force was good to me for six years in reality, it wasn’t very good to the people of fictional heavy-industry town Lillian Ohio.  Whereas lore has its Area 51, Lillian has its Building 47.  And that, in a nutshell, is what this movie’s about.  But before you turn away from the ticket booth…

Super 8 is more about storytelling — both from the point-of-view of child protagonists, and from that of Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams (Producer and Director/Writer, respectively).  These names should give you a sense for how the story plays out.

It’s 1979, and Cold War fears are ever-present for the grownups.  You’ve got a bunch of ordinary kids ranging from gawkish to brainiac to pyromaniac.  Super 8‘s story arc takes them from normal to victim to problem-solver, each using his particular assets to save the day.  In a theater populated entirely by adults, it was interesting to see how we empathized with these kids and rooted for them to come out okay.  All they want to do, after all, is make a zombie movie.  They’ve written a script, got credible makeup, picked an apt location and set the shoot for midnight.

Then disaster strikes.  It surrounds and endangers our young friends and, ultimately, their entire town.  And they’ve got it all on film.  The story percolates for a while before their footage is viewed in what was the most cinematically creative scene of the entire movie.  Until that point, we learn more about the characters, and of the flaws of the adults with whom they live.  It’s all good.  It’s pure Spielberg.

The Air Force plays its heavy hand and we think that they’re the bad guys.  Then we learn about what they’re so intent on keeping secret, and for a while, we think that ‘the secret’ is the bad guys.  Of course, ‘the secret’ is merely misunderstood, and we learn to sympathize with it.  That leaves just the Air Force looking like jerks.  Through it all, havoc ensues.

Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney

The young cast’s performances ring true in every way.  The only name you might recognize is that of Dakota Fanning’s little sister, Elle.  Here is an actress who is convincing both as an attitudinal teenager and as a melodramatic heroin in the movie the group is trying to produce.  The contrast between these two roles is stunning and wonderful.  You’ll think of her as you once thought of her sister: ‘this girl’s going to be huge.’

Riley Griffiths

Two of the boys deserve mention.  Joel Courtney is the male lead and the character we most want to hug.  He’s also the guy who bravely leads his friends through the toughest scenes in acts two and three.  And Riley Griffiths is a convincing young film director.  He really knows his craft, building props, capturing images and coaching good performances from his actors.  He’s also a hoot-and-a-half to watch.

The adults of Lillian Ohio are not played like the boob-ish stereotypes used in the early Spielberg movies.  These are real people facing personal challenges and a massive disaster.  Kyle Chandler is the standout here.  He’s the deputy with a tough edge, an impossible job, and a son imperiled amidst the mayhem.

Super 8 tries awfully hard to be another E.T. or Close Encounters.  Maybe if I were 14, I’d say this goal was achieved.  But for me, what this movie is missing – that its forbears had – is heart.  Whereas we like the characters here, we loved Elliot and E.T.

Certainly, Super 8 deserves a place on the top shelf for special effects and character development.  Of the former, only a too-often-used blue laser lens-flare effect merits criticism.  Of the latter, there’s plenty to compliment.  But I’m not 14, so I’ll put this movie on the shelf just below the Spielberg epics.

And what about the movie’s namesake?  This now-extinct film technology looks a bit like an old Charlie Chaplin movie, but in color.  We get to see the kids’ movie in its entirety during the closing credits.  It’s worth staying to watch.

I give Super 8 3 tumbling train cars (out of 4).  It has a big budget and lots of buzz.  It’ll probably win a technical Emmy or two.  You should see it in a good theater (2-D or IMAX), but you don’t need to see it when the lines are long on opening weekend.

1 Response to "Movie Review: Super 8"

I’m looking forward to it! It sounds like a fun movie to see!

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