Movie Review: Super 8

Coming to Super 8 fairly late—my family and I went last night. My dad’s idea, actually. I didn’t really know much about the movie going in to it—I don’t watch much TV or see that many movies, so very few previews or commercials for me.

Here’s what I had going in: a couple of kids were shooting a home movie and captured…something…on tape that they weren’t supposed to see. Plus something about aliens. Oh, and the bizarre history between J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg.

And actually, I’m kind of glad that’s all there was. More on that soon.

For the abbreviated review, I guess you could say that it’s E.T. meets Alien…though I have to admit I haven’t actually seen Alien. To me, the moments in Super 8 felt like a monster movie: lots of sudden, startling loud-noises-and-things-jumping-out moments. But the movie as a whole did not feel like that, leading me to call it the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead of monster movies (somewhat to the confusion of my family). The events in the movie are fairly typical of monster movies, but it’s told from the perspective of the kids.

To finish the summary, this movie feels like J.J. Abrams meets Steven Spielberg—which, of course, it is. If you dislike either of them, you’re probably not going to like Super 8. But this was a movie with class, with (mostly) believable and likable characters, and with a fairly unique story—a welcome change in a year of tired tropes and sequels. It’s the first new movie I’ve seen in a while that I could actually see myself rewatching in a couple of years. Super 8 is a win.

Okay, time for my usual spoilerful rambling. No ranting this time, though.

The best thing about this movie was that for the first half, I didn’t really know what was going to happen next.1 With most movies, you know pretty much the entire story within the first twenty minutes. Or even just from watching the trailer. With Super 8, the first ten minutes are just backstory (okay). The next thirty, though, are just normal “kids interacting” scenes, which were fun in and of themselves.

Then there’s the disaster, the main precipitating event in the movie. Except that after that’s over, you still don’t really know what’s going on. You also get the wonderful interleaving of the kids’ priorities on what’s going on with the actual events in the town (although honestly my family agreed that would have preferred the balance even more skewed towards the kids). It didn’t yet feel like a set story: any number of things could have happened next.

And what did happen was fairly good. Sure, there were plotholes and problems, as in every movie, and it got more and more predictable as the course Abrams and Spielberg chose was revealed, but it wasn’t really disappointing. (Except the very end, which was stock cheese. Kind of necessary but it was over the top.)

The alien design was fairly good. Probably it would have a less human face, but they needed you to be able to empathize with it at the end. So, fine.

The kids were very good, as my mom pointed out. Everything felt very natural and realistic…and of course the actors here were (for the most part) kids, only a few years older than their characters. Which helps. We all cared about them.

We all agreed that the train explosion was amazing, and the tanks and gunfire in the town at the end were absolutely unnecessary. I suppose it was in order to keep things fast-paced (and to get Charles and Martin out of the picture), but…no. Didn’t work for us.

We also were very disappointed that Alice’s car came out of the train wreck almost without a scratch, and that the “tire imprints” the Air Force took never led back to the Dainard household. My dad also mentioned the hole in the wall from when Joe’s cube shot towards the water tower. (That didn’t bother me as much because they were evicted immediately after.)

One trope I was half-expecting all along was that the reason Joe and Alice’s dads hated each other was because Alice and Joe were half-siblings. I was glad that they didn’t end up doing this.

But it was all very good, despite the uncomfortable things-jumping-out moments that I don’t enjoy. (It got to be that whenever the music trailed off, I took a deep breath, cause I knew something was going to jump out.) It was a character-based story, something I always look for in books but realized I’d given up on in movies. Super 8 has reminded me how different our standards are for movies compared to books. And yeah, sometimes you look for that boost of action/horror/comedy/romance, or mix of the above. But the stories that stick are the stories in which you care about the characters, and the stories in which the plot is original. (An original premise is good but not good enough.) Super 8 had both of those—not perfectly, but more than a lot of other movies.

Oh, and the home movie at the end—”The Case”—was priceless.

  1. My brother was first in my family to say this out loud, but I was thinking it too. ↩︎