Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Like some film goers, I thought Super 8 was going to be another superhero film. Well, it's certainly a terrible superhero film (because it totally isn't). Instead, it's a film that feeds off the nostalgia of well-known movies. Many films that claim to be paying homage to these earlier classics tend to just copy what made the originals so great with nothing new to add. But every now and again, a film comes along to surprise you with not only how expertly it handles the films that inspired it, but almost deserves the respect the earlier classics had. J.J. Abrams' Super 8 is one of these films.

Living in a small town in the summer of 1979, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) helps out his friends film their monster movie while trying to move on from the death of his mother. While filming a scene at a station, a truck smashes into an oncoming train forcing it to derail. After the immense explosion, something escapes from the wreckage. Joe and his friends then witness several strange events around town while Joe's father (Kyle Chandler) tries to keep the peace while the shady military begins to occupy the once sleepy town.

I did my best to keep the plot description paper-thin because that's the best way to experience Super 8, knowing as little as possible. All you need to know is that it is a coming-of-age story set in the middle of a creature movie. But the best part about Super 8 is keeping the creature's appearance and nature a complete mystery. The trailers have done an excellent job at keeping it's poker face and never revealing anything more than you need to know. The film itself keeps the momentum going by hiding what the creature looks like throughout the film. You'll get a snippet or two here and there of the creature, but the film keeps up the suspense by never (excuse the metaphor kiddies) blowing its load too early and keeps forcing you to imagine what this thing looks like.

This technique of hiding the monster is what made films like Alien and Jaws so memorable and why they struck a chord with so many audience members that the fear still hits them decades later. Super 8 isn't all about horror, though there are two or three jump scares peppered through the film; instead it's about building suspense whenever the creature half of the story kicks in. The other half of the film involves following a boy as learns to become a stronger person emotionally. And it is at these points that the film harkens back to the coming of age tales like E.T. and The Goonies, while having strong character development throughout.

Joe and his father both experience emotional conflicts and both have to overcome their insecurities brought on by sadness or anger. The rest of the cast does a superb job of supporting the growth of the characters, particularly Elle Fanning (yes that's Dakota Fanning's younger sister) as Alice who shows incredible acting chops by delivering moment after moment of emotional connections. The film truly shows that JJ Abrams is a fully capable director of actors.

But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the spectacular effects. You see, Hollywood? This is how you use special effects properly. By allowing them to complement the story. Honestly, the film's initial train derailment sequence is absolutely superb by putting you right in the middle of the chaos. There's also some insane explosion sequences that raises the stakes considerably as well as tense and claustrophobic chase sequences. The creature could have benefited from using some more practical effects rather than CGI, but this is a small complaint.

Super 8 has quickly won its way into becoming one of my favorites of the year so far. This summer has already given some great and memorable movies, but Super 8 gives those previous films a run for their movie while raising the bar for the ones yet to come. This is what movies are all about: suspenseful sequences, excellent character development, mysterious storytelling, and an almost child-like sense of awe and wonder of the whole experience. Super 8 not only pays its respect to 80s fantasy films pioneered by Spielberg, but it manages to stand on its own two feet as a great movie on its own. Do not miss this one.

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