Release date: December 12th, 2011
Certificate (UK): 12
Running time: 111 minutes
Writer & director: J.J. Abrams
Producers: Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk
Cast: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Joel McKinnon Miller, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills, Ron Eldard
One of the great things about being a product of the late 70’s is that if you grew up in the right place you got to see some of the finest films a kid with an overactive imagination could ever hope to see.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and The Goonies (1985) are testament to that, and that they were either directed or produced by Steven Spielberg is no coincidence either.
Super 8, written and directed by J.J. Abrams and with Spielberg as one of its producers, is set in a small town in Ohio where a group of young friends, Joe (Joel Courtney), Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths), Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso), Cary (Ryan Lee) and Alice (Elle Fanning), are out making a zombie film to enter into a local film festival. While shooting one night at an old train depot, they witness a train crash and as they run for their lives, they drop the camera.
Realising that the crash was no accident and there was something on board the military is doing their best to keep quiet about, Joe tries to convince his friends there’s more to the story than the grown-ups are willing to see. Dogs, along with microwaves, people, car batteries, fridge freezers and various other items from the town are disappearing fast and Joe’s dad, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), is at a loss to try and explain it and keep everyone calm as they think it’s a Russian invasion.
In the midst of all this chaos there’s the tense relationships that Joe and his dad, and Alice and her dad, Louis (Ron Eldard) have. Both kids come from homes where their fathers don’t spend a great deal of time with them and a recent tragedy forbids them from having contact with each other, but who else are they going to turn to at a time like this?
With the military gradually taking control of the town, Charles and Joe finally get to see the footage of the crash they accidentally shot and realise their low-budget film just got its production value upgraded. From the burning wreckage of the train they see the creature the US government has been keeping in captivity since 1958. Left with the choice of continuing to run for their lives or helping the creature to return to its home, Joe and his friends choose the latter when Alice becomes one of the town’s missing citizens.
Super 8 blends a moving story of friendship and overcoming tragedies with a style of filmmaking that’s instantly recognisable but yet fails to add its own touch. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before and as a result the film has the look and feel of an homage to Spielberg but remains far too cynical to really capture the magic and essence of what made those films so great.
The opening scene quickly gets the back-story of Joe’s mom out of the way before flashing forward by 4 months and I felt this could have served the overall story much better as a flashback later on in the film. As the story progresses, the second act stalls; there’s a lot of rustling in the bushes and people doing things they really shouldn’t do before we finally get a look at the creature – and even then it’s not something we really see because it’s keep hidden in darkness. To top it all off, the inclusion of swearing in the film, together with some pretty nasty kills, makes it something I wouldn’t want my own kids to see (if I had any!).
It’s not that Super 8 should have been like those films of the past, but it seems to sell itself on the nostalgia of it with the hope of bringing something new. While it weaves a wonderful human story that’s beautifully acted out by its young cast, Super 8 offers nothing new to science fiction and in the end, though my heart was full of feeling for the kids, my imagination was left starved for sights I wanted to see, stories I wanted to hear and places I wanted to go.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .