When I was 14, one of my fondest memories was making a sci-fi film with my best friends. Equipped with Star Wars models and firecrackers, all of our time, energy, and limited resources went into the epic project of miniatures proportions. It was more than just crafting some cool space battles, but it was about being masters of our own destiny. We didn’t care if our parents thought we were crazy or if no-one ever saw it. We just knew we had to make it. We were filled with hopes and dreams.
Some movies wow you with special effects. Others rivet you with intriguing characters. While some, transport you to a nostalgic era of your childhood. Super 8 magically does all three. Super 8 was shrouded in mystery throughout it’s production and even in the trailers leading up to its release- this is what we come to expect from the reincarnated ‘Spielbergian’ director JJ Abrams. Even though we had no idea what to expect, you knew it would include emotion, mystery, and intensity (with a few lens flares for good measure).
Super 8 is about a group of boys in producing their own amateur zombie movie with a ‘super 8’ camera. During one of their late night shoots, they witness a catastrophic train wreck that not only threatens their lives but also releases something very dangerous into the small, suburban town of Lillian, Ohio. In the spirit of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET (directed by Steven Spielberg who also produced this), the town is subject to all kinds of unexplainable activity. And like with the movies I just mentioned, a force of implacable government soldiers roll in to quarantine the area. It’s now up to the kids to put this myestery together.
Super 8 takes a bold risk in two areas. First, it is carried on the shoulders of unknown child actors. We have all seen too many movies where kids are painstakingly regurgitating dialogue that was not believable nor endearing. Abrams struck gold with these kids. Focusing on the two best friends and one love interest, you really get a sense that these are real kids. They are foolish, vulnerable, unsure, crazy, adventurous, and full of wonder. While watching, I could help reminisce about similar conversations I had with my group of friends growing up. The camaraderie could be compared to Goonies or Stand By Me. Without the perfect casting, this movie would have failed. It’s also impressive knowing how difficult it is to work with so many young actors who lack experience as well as time because of restrictions placed with minors. There are some tender, heart felt moments between Joe and Alice that has to be some of the best acting among kids I have seen in decades. It’s sweet and natural, which is rare given we live in a uber-modern, High School Musical era.
The second area Super 8 takes risks is attempting to reintroduce a story that has been done in so many of other movies in the past. I can’t go to far into it without spoiling the story. All I can say is that while familiar, it does enough to make this unique. It takes some turns and dabbles in horror/monster genre at times which definitely helps modernize it. Warning, it is pretty intense at times so just because it has kids in it, don’t make the mistake thinking it’s for your younglings. This part really is secondary to the emotional arcs of the main characters. So if you keep that in mind, the lack of development in this part of the story won’t bother you as much.
All in all, Super 8 is a wonderful hybrid of Goonies, Stand By Me, ET, and Close Encounters. It doesn’t come close to doing better than any of those films but they are also all over 20 years old each. You just don’t see movies like this often that capture nostalgia so accurately, while able to thrill a modern day audience. Yes, it’s true that you may have seen all this before but it’s been a long time- and that is saying something about Abrams’ sensibility and artistic craftsmanship. He was clearly inspired by Spielberg and made something that should make his mentor proud.
I have to admit that I am also greatly shaped by my personal experience. I resonated with these kids because they were the same ones that I grew up with. We made models, shot movies, and blew things up. If you didn’t have these same childhood, then Super 8 might not connect with you like it did me. However, I think it will with many; here are what some of my Twitter followers said when asked about it:
“An example of how you don’t need gratuitous action, firepower, and special effects to make a heartfelt inspiring summer film” -@A1L33N
“Young cast reminded me of the group of kids from “The Monster Squad” great young cast, wasn’t afraid to say $#@%.” -@KTrump
“Was A Throwback to The Magic Of Movies! Thrilling, Scary, Funny, Sweet, Exiting Just Awesome Loved It. A Perfect Hybrid Off JJ Abrams Sensibilities and Spielberg Nostalgia!” -@spenmaul
I loved this movie. In fact, I think it is the best movie to come out for this year. While it’s not at the level of ET or Goonies, it did remind me of why I love film so much and love reviewing them. It transported me to a simpler time with simpler friends. While we never had to run for our lives as kids we did had to fight for our hopes and dreams. In reflection, I realized how quickly my childhood passed and how I dearly miss some of those hopes and dreams. Thanks to Super 8, it helped me regain some of that.
I give Super 8 4.5 Babbles out of 5.