Super 8 reminds us why we love the movies. It gathers likable characters, an interesting premise, and an ingenious script. Sure, the film is far too safe for its own good and the third act is a bit of a disaster. But like the Sci-fi films from the 1980′s we have come to love, Super 8 is a heartwarming, crowd-pleasing blockbuster that has something to offer to any cinematic viewer .
One cannot be too surprised that the film is produced by Steven Spielberg, the sci-fi master who brought you E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Through thick and thin, Super 8 feels and looks like a Spielberg film. Yet the credit goes to director J.J. Abrams, most notable for his reboot of Star Trek in 2009, who graces the film with brains and action-sequences that both frighten and entertain.
The plot of Super 8 is set in the summer of 1979 and follows four kids from small town Lillian, Ohio who set out to make a zombie movie. While shooting a scene one night, they witness a mysterious train crash and, after barely escaping themselves, they soon discover that it was not an accident. Unusual disappearances and inexplicable events soon begin to take place in town. The curious kids decide to investigate what went down on that horrific night and begin to uncover something more terrifying than any of them could have imagined.
As the film transpires, the entire city goes into shock of what’s upon them. Unlike anything modern day society has seen before, the citizens of this city along with military operatives go haywire and into hiding. There is a creepy, menacing creature seemingly prowling around town but answers aren’t spoon fed to the audience and this is probably the single most redeeming feature of the film. The creature is not shown to us until the final 35 minutes and Abrams does such a fantastic job of steadily building tension that you badly want to find out what is haunting this town.
But even in times of crisis, romance is still in the air. The protagonist, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) whose mother passes away at the beginning of the film and whose father (Kyle Chandler) is deputy of the small town, has fallen for Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning). She is the daughter of the person suspected to be responsible for his mother’s death. Their wonderful relationship is stretched out throughout the film. It’s believable, genuine, and worth rooting for. In fact when the plot goes downhill in the third act, their romance keeps the movie alive. It’s not a stretch to say that in this sci-fi movie, the romance is the driving force.
As with the 80′s pictures it so closely resembles, Super 8 is plagued with chaotic plot points and an ending that is sure to turn heads. Abrams tries to evoke emotions in the grand finale but by that point we realize what has happened and our emotions for the characters have been reduced. Though, they are smaller, subtle scenes — Joe and Alice sharing a moment of honesty while watching an old recording of his deceased mother, that pulls on our heart strings.
The third act and in retrospect the course the film takes in the final 30 minutes is disappointing. What led up to this point is absolutely great but then Abrams decides to take the safe route. Every difficult question, every unholy predicament and every moral difference from character to character, is resolved too neatly. In fact it feels as if someone took over the director chair with one month remaining on the project. Quite simply, decisions were made in the interest of wrapping up the film quickly I’m not saying we need definite closure on everything but here’s my rule: don’t raise questions to move along the plot, if you’re not going to supply, or even attempt to supply sufficient answers.
But you know what? I had fun. And so will you. It embraces its summer blockbuster spirit. The action-sequences, in particular the first one we witness, is hauntingly brilliant. Every character is a stereotype, but is played with nuance by the talented actors. And the premise of the picture, despite the notion we have seen it all in the “end-of-the-world”, “alien-on-earth” genre is original and creative.
Super 8 could have been a great film and the opening 25 minutes will have you believing it’s well on its way. It’s sad to say everything that comes after is a notch below in quality. Yet in hindsight, I like to think that every once in a while a Hollywood blockbuster can do some good. Super 8 has brains, ambitions and charm to boot. And for that we all should be thankful.
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