J.J. Abrams, one of the better directors working today, and Steven Spielberg, one of the best directors of all time, collaborate for the first time for the nostalgic sci-fi thriller Super 8. An amalgam of Spielberg's and Abrams' styles, Super 8 is an entertaining popcorn flick, but sadly one that never reaches its potential.
Set in 1979, Super 8 follows a group of friends in a small Ohio town who are making an amateur zombie movie. When they witness a horrifying train crash carrying secretive Air Force cargo, however, they begin to realize that something extremely deadly has been unleashed upon their homes. As dogs run away, people vanish and electrical parts literally fly away, the Air Force attempts to cover things up - and a monster lurks in the shadows.
It's essentially E.T. but with a really angry alien.
Super 8 marks one of the more exciting team ups in recent memory. The previews hit all the right notes, clearly looking to notch up the nostalgic factor with E.T.-esque music and setting, while catering to modern audiences with explosions, people get ripped away by an unseen force and other weird things. Oh, and the movie is from producer Steven Spielberg and director J.J. Abrams. How could anything go wrong?
The movie is good, a refreshing throwback to films of old - namely Spielberg tales like the aforementioned classic E.T. and The Goonies. The sci-fi element is strong and the mystery compelling, but more importantly the dynamic within the group of friends - especially between Joe (Joel Courtney) and Alice (Elle Fanning) - is believable, fun and relatable.
Super 8 is more than anything a movie about friendships, just like E.T. and The Goonies. The child actors are excellent; Courtney and Fanning lead the way, and Riley Griffiths also turns in a delightable performance. Some of the best scenes in the movie have nothing to do with sci-fi or the military, but rather of the chitchatting between friends.
Where the movie differs from E.T., and where Abrams applies his signature, is the unnecessary lens flares. I mean the action. The alien is angry, hungry and much more active than the friendly little critter we all know and love. Super 8 gets increasingly wild as it goes along, to the point where the town is turned into a war zone. There is more than enough suspense and excitement to keep things moving.
Super 8 is not without its flaws, however. In hindsight, the teaming of Spielberg and Abrams was not a good idea. Both are talented filmmakers, but the synergy in Super 8 just isn't there. The movie feels a lot like a Spielberg movie but it also looks at times like an Abrams film; it never solidifies its identity, the end result a clunky product.
The movie so desperately wants to be the new E.T. - Abrams has more or less said so himself - but by doing so Super 8 unfavorably compares itself to that classic film. The plot mirrors E.T. significantly, but it isn't as good. Super 8 is a wannabe - a good wannabe, but a wannabe nonetheless.
Several of the characters aren't fully fleshed out, especially the fathers of the two leads. When Abrams tries to convince the audience that we should care both about them and the relationships with their children, it feels hollow and too little, too late. The movie wants to be too many things at once; it strives to be a Spielberg coming-of-age adventure, but it also wants to be an Abrams action film. It is instead something in between that is constantly playing tug of war with itself.
Super 8 has some very strong elements and is a sufficiently entertaining adventure. But to call it "satisfying" would be to go too far, as it never attains the potential established by the involvement of the two most prominent filmmakers attached. It's fun and even funny, but it isn't the overpowering throwback film we were all hoping for.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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