The first time I saw the Super 8 teaser trailer my eyes lit up like when I first saw the teaser for Cloverfield. However, I didn’t feel that spark of curiosity as I did with Cloverfield but nevertheless… I wanted to see it. I trucked along with the viral marketing (everything from Rocket Poppeteers to Scariest Think I Ever Saw all the way to Hook, Line and Minker) but it still didn’t make me feel that spark of utter nostalgia. Perhaps, deep down inside I underestimated the movie and I’m here to say that I was making a grave mistake for this movie is not only a great homage to the 70’s Spielbergian films but it also took me back to my childhood where moviemaking and horror movies were my bread and butter. It captured that sense of adventure, escapism and nostalgic beauty that you so rarely find in theaters and I’m glad that I was there to see it. Now, since I haven’t kept up with the viral marketing that must I don’t know if there are any movie connections but if there are… please feel free to let me know. In the meantime, I will try to do a review of this film without rambling.
The film opens up in 1979 with the tragic death of our hero’s mother, who died in a factory accident. Our hero is young Joe Lamb who, during summer vacation, agrees to help his friend Charles with a zombie movie for a Super 8 competition. He becomes more excited to work on it when his school crush Alice becomes the lead actress. But then things spiral out of control when the group of young filmmakers witness a planned train crash mere yards from their set. They then realize that the train was holding something dangerous, something that’s living and possibly extraterrestrial. Strange things begin happening around the town like missing pets, motors from cars torn right out of the hoods, missing people and power outages. It’s up to the group of friends to discover what was in that train? Why is the military being so secretive? Why go through all the trouble to destroy it? And what are the mysterious cubes that the military was excavating from the crash?
I want to dive right into this and talk about how the movie feels to me. It was obvious that when I saw Spielberg’s name attached to the trailer, that it would be a throwback to classic films such as Close Encounters or E.T. but I didn’t know to what extent. The film is set in the 70’s and it automatically gives us that Close Encounters feel and even some of the wide shots of the night sky beautifully homage the beginning of Close Encounters. However, it goes further than that. Scenes that show the friends rebelling against the military are very reminiscent of E.T. where Elliot convinces his brother to steal the military van. Much like E.T. it is carried out in such a fun and whimsical manner. There is one scene in particular, and I won’t spoil it, that takes place underground that is almost a direct homage to Temple of Doom of the Indiana Jones series. Essentially the film captures that timeless, childhood innocents that Spielberg loves to experiment with and for a brief moment I felt like a kid again. But what about Abrams? It was his movie. There is enough Abrams to go around. The first thing I noticed was his camera flare, which isn’t as overused as it was in Star Trek but it gives the movie a nice touch of surrealism. The action scenes, though they aren’t taking place in space or a major city, are stunningly choreographed and put you on the edge of your seat.
The cast was absolutely terrific but features mostly no-name actors and actresses. Those that are familiar were in supporting roles. On the ‘name’ actors/actresses we have Kyle Chandler who plays Joe’s father Deputy Jackson Lamb. Chandler was terrific and when I saw the trailer for this I thought he would be overdoing his role but he perfectly executes a father who has truly lost something dear to him. He was very believable and went against the cliché of parents not believing their kid’s about monsters taking over the town. Ron Eldard, who plays Alice’s father, is fantastic as a father who has been crushed by the realization that he may have inadvertently killed Joe’s mom. But the real stars of the show are the kids; first-timers Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths, and supporting cast Ryan Lee, Zach Mills and Elle Fanning are all outstanding. They really bring that sense of childhood adventure and imagination to the screen and they embody the characters they are portraying, making them believable. Mixing innocent love with some outright funny lines, they stole the show from their parents as well as the monster itself. Again, I had never had a fun time laughing and being scared in my life.
Now, lets talk about the scares and the monster. I won’t give too much away but the monster reminds me a lot like the Cloverfield monster. It’s vague enough to resemble it but at the same time it’s completely different. All I have to say is that, it’s not hidden as much as Cloverfield was but damn… the growls and moans that thing makes is chilling. Kind reminds me of the raptors in Jurassic Park. The scares are great because, like films from the 70’s and early 80’s, the scares are built on silence, the unexpected audience and sudden bolt of shrilling music and heavy sound effects. Though the film isn’t a horror movie per say, it definitely has enough elements in it to be considered into the genre. I still say it’s a science fiction/action adventure. The scares are limited but when they happen, they certainly catch you off guard. The other good thing is that the humor from the kids is so witty and funny that it douses some of the tension making it all the better to endure.
I might be giving Super 8 a glowing review and I might be over-indulging myself with the film but there was something about it that went beyond just entertainment for me. I’m not sure what it was but I felt like the film was how I wanted my childhood to be like. It brought me back to the days when I use to watch films like E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park or even non-Spielberg films like Home Alone. I could imagine myself, as a young kid, reenacting all the action scenes in this film. Super 8 is a film that puts the audience into a kid’s shoes and sends them on an adventure of a lifetime and I miss that about the movies. I miss the sense of escaping my boring, mundane life to watch a true adventure unfold. I’m seeing it again, that goes without saying, and maybe the second time I could put my finger on why I connected so much with it. Until then, I recommend this movie to anybody who wants to live those nostalgic days when aliens, adventure and childhood innocents was prime.
Stay after the show. A special screening of an upcoming zombie movie will premiere during the credits.
Also, if you want to read a bit about the viral marketing you can do so by clicking here. (Note: the link takes you to the first page on the Super 8 News website. To get to more recent stuff you’ll have to scroll through the pages).