Super 8 is a summer blockbuster film by director J.J. Abrams that contains obvious hints of Spielberg throughout. The film is both entertaining and predictable when a group of adolescent filmmakers stumble upon a magical discovery. It is everything you would expect from a summer blockbuster; it’s exciting, entertaining, mindless and the plot could have used a little work.
Super 8 takes place in a small Ohio town set in 1979, with 12 year old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) helping his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) make an 8mm zombie movie for a local film festival. Those two have a few other friends to join them that are committed to filmmaking as well. Together they try keeping it mostly a secret from their parents as best as they can.
Somehow the group of boys gets the attractive girl, Alice (Elle Fanning), to star in their film but she is reluctant when she figures out Joe is a part of it. This is because she is driving her father’s vehicle without a license and Joe’s father is a deputy. Joe is at first shocked that she even knew who he was and tells her that he will never tell his father about it.
Once they arrive at the train station where they are going to shoot the next scene, they begin to setup lights, get makeup on and rehearse the lines. I must say it was truly impressive for a group of 12 year olds. As they are reading their lines everyone is taken aback at how wonderful Alice conveys emotion through her lines. She does so in a way that is brilliant because you can tell she is acting like she is acting.
The scene suddenly gets a huge break when they hear a train coming on the tracks next to them. Charles realizes that this opportunity will add a great amount of production value to the film if they can use it in the scene. So Charles rushes everyone into position and starts filming.
Everything goes as planned and the scene nears the end as the train is passing until Joe witnesses something odd. He spots a pickup truck getting on the tracks and heading towards the train at full speed. The train and pickup collide head-on that derails the train and setting off an enormous explosion. The camera gets knocked over on its side during all the commotion but continues to film the entire thing.
The group slowly wanders around the site looking at all the train parts on fire when they spot the truck that caused the accident. They approach the truck cautiously and find that the person behind the wheel of the truck had a schedule of the train. The man who is barely alive tells them not to tell anyone else about the accident.
You cannot read any reviews of this film without someone comparing this to a Steven Spielberg film but it is easy to see why. First of all, Spielberg is an executive producer of this film. Second of all, the film contains a ton of classic Spielberg elements such as; having a small courageous group of friends who all vary in different talents that are slightly beyond normal for their age. In my head I could not stop comparing this to a modern day version of The Goonies. It did lack one element that Spielberg seemed to always nail, an amazing original soundtrack.
Oddly enough, I was least impressed with the main character’s acting; Joel seemed to lack emotion that Elle and Riley expressed. Elle Fanning’s performance stood out the most for me but knowing that she is the younger sister of actress Dakota Fanning, it is not surprising she has so much talent. I would be shocked if she did not start getting some larger roles and later down the road pick up an Oscar for one of them.
I very much enjoyed the first two-thirds of Super 8 because it was focused much more on the group of kids trying to make a film together and less on the monster itself. However, the film seemed to abandon that in the last third of the film. This made it seem like the whole idea of them making a film for a festival seem like an afterthought by showing it in the ending credits only instead of referencing it again beforehand. The film is called Super 8 after all. I wonder if they won the local film festival?