Did you like ET? What about War of the Worlds? What do you think about Minority Report or AI?
Super 8 is not one of those movies. In fact, don’t compare it to any Spielberg movie. This is clearly a JJ Abrams movie in every regard.
A few bookkeeping measures. First, this takes place in 1979 and it shows. That fact is present through the entire movie. It takes three days to quickly print film. The forms of telecommunication are phones and walkie-talkies. The other big piece of bookkeeping is the reason why this is clearly a JJ Abrams movie: it’s all about the characters.
You have to think about that in a little more than the simplest detail. In Lost, the Island is incidental to the characters. In Fringe, the weird super-science is incidental to the characters. In Alias and Mission: Impossible III, the spy games are incidental to the characters. If it’s a JJ Abrams project, if only in it’s initial genesis, the characters are the most important thing. Just look at his Star Trek film from 2009. It’s not about starship battles or space travels; it’s about the friendship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.
Super 8 is about a group of preteen friends who are making a zombie film over summer break. One of these, Joe, has lost his mother months before to a factory accident. His best friend and aspiring film director Charles, recruits a classmate, Alice, to take part in their film to improve the “production value.” Alice is the daughter of an alcoholic factory worker, played by Ron Eldard. Joe’s father, a local deputy played by Kyle Chandler, blames his wife’s death on Alice’s father. As the film shoots scenes near a train station, a train passes and Charles wants the scene to include the train passing by, again to improve “production value.” This is the train crash you might have seen in previews for Super 8 and it takes about this long for the event to come about.
As I said, this is all about the characters, more specifically it’s all about Joe and Alice finding themselves becoming friends and a growing fondness for each other, despite the friction between their fathers. It’s a wonderful youth relationship, the sort of thing that’s only recently popped up in Let Me In, which was simply a beautiful tale about the simplest, purest kind of love. Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning are two exception actors, especially considering they are both only in their teens.
The external conflict comes in two larger forms once the train wreck happens. The immediate response comes in the form of Colonel Nelec and the Air Force. Noah Emmerich plays this part well. He’s a sinister sort of military man, willing to do anything to get what he wants. He isn’t without morals, but they are so scarcely visible, you might have to look close to see them. The military response to the creature that has escaped from the train wreck proves to be a covert threat to the town, but no more than the creature itself.
I don’t want to say much about the creature. It’s an interesting creation and it’s role in the story is another element that makes this movie shine a little brighter. While it does hold to many of Spielberg’s principles about kid heroes in movies with aliens, this creature can also do unbelievable things in unbelievable places. It’s something that will make you curious throughout the movie, but fill you with dread when it becomes directly involved with the story.
There’s more I could say about Super 8, but I don’t want to spoil the fun of seeing it for anyone. It’s a fantastic suspenseful story about friendship in a past time and there’s a creature on the loose.