Children have an innocence to them that once lost can never really be found again. Before they grow into cynical adults, children have a unique precociousness about them that disappears when the realities of the world hit them. The thing about modern childhood is that it seems to be disappearing quicker and quicker for children in today’s modern times; that’s what Super 8 yearns to tap into, that innocence in children.
Set in the late 1970s, Joe (Joel Courtney) is helping his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) craft a zombie movie for a local film festival. Doing it secretly for a variety of reason, they are assisted by 14-year-old Alice (Elle Fanning), a star in the film and sneaks out with her father’s car to drive them all to a midnight shoot at the local train station. Alice and Joe’s families have some strife between them, as Joe’s father (Kyle Chandler) blames Alice’s father (Ron Eldard) for the death of Joe’s mother in a mill accident. Shooting late at night, the youngsters fall upon an accident where a truck runs into a train and derails it, unleashing something from within a sealed cargo car.
As the military moves in, and strange things begin happening around town, Joe and Charles opt to use the general craziness as part of their film and continue on as the world around them gets stranger and stranger. Super 8, named after the film format, is essentially a coming of age film involving its young cast that just happens to take place while a monster is on the loose. Following Joe as he’s forced to deal with the realities of the situation, as well as the further escalation of his interpersonal relationships, we see him lose that childhood innocence as he begins his development into an adult.
It’s the sort of film Spielberg made decades ago and one sees his influences on this film. Spielberg produced the film and if he hadn’t he could almost accuse JJ Abrams of theft because Super 8 is nothing more than the collection of the best moments of Spielberg’s early works. There’s moments almost directly cribbed from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T sprinkled throughout Super 8. Abrams wants to make a film close in spirit to Spielberg’s early work and it shows.
At least he chose the better moments and attached a fairly solid story to it. There’s a terrific small story about a boy and his father trying to reconcile their relationship in light of a family tragedy, with both not knowing how to adjust, that Abrams has crafted onto this monster story that gives it some heart. Kyle Chandler and Joel Courtney have terrific chemistry with one another in a way that’s hard for many child actors and adults to have. We care about their relationship because they feel like a father and son with issues relating to one another. Joe has retreated into his friendships and his father into work to handle death. It gives them an interesting dynamic because neither knows how to handle one another without Joe’s mother as a go between. Without it he’d be merely crafting a monster movie with bits and pieces from other films. He may be taking from a master but he’s taking the best parts and adapting to them for his own style.
That’s the one thing evident early on. He’s taking moments and types of moments from other films and gives them just enough changes and modern touches to make them feel new and different. From how he lights certain moments to his general cinematography, if Spielberg in 1979 was going to make Super 8 he’d probably come out with something extremely similar to this film. Abrams has chosen to at least imitate one of the masters so you can’t really fault him significantly for it.
Super 8 is a pale imitation of other, better films, that manages to hold one’s interest during but doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself from other films. It’s a unique interpretation, and he manages to keep it entertaining, but his inability to craft his own moments and reliance on imitating others keeps this film from being anything but mediocre.
Writer/Director: JJ Abrams Notable Cast: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.