‘Super 8′ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated June 11th, 2011 at 1:09 pm,

Super 8 reviews Super 8 Review

Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Super 8

Super 8 has had something of a confusing marketing campaign leading up to its release. Some people know it as ‘that J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg movie,’ while others know it as ‘that Goonies-meets-ET‘ throwback flick.’ Then there are others (many others) who won’t have the faintest idea what this film is all about.

As with any movie, it’s important to approach Super 8 with your expectations properly aligned to what the film has to offer – and in this case, that offering is a mix of nostalgia, thrills, and good-old-fashioned movie magic, conjured by a cast of charmingly funny and talented young actors.

Despite all of its creature-feature promises, the story of the film is classic Spielbergian drama: in 1970s small-town Ohio, young Joe Lamb (newcomer Joel Courtney) loses his mother in a tragic accident. Joe’s father, deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), is broken by the loss, and buries his pain beneath his role as the town’s stalwart protector. Alone and neglected, young Joe finds his own ways to displace his grief – mainly by clutching onto a locket his mother wore, and by aiding his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) in making an amateur super 8 movie called “The Case,” which the boys hope to submit to a local film festival.

One night, Joe, Charles, and the rest of their crew (Cary, a pyro, Martin, a worry-wort, and Preston, a goody-two-shoes) decide to sneak away to film a pivotal scene out by the train station. The boys are joined by a girl (of course): Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), a skilled actress who happens to be the rebellious daughter of the town drunk…and Joe’s secret crush.

Everything is “mint” (you’ll hear that term a lot in this film) until a pickup truck swerves onto the tracks and derails an oncoming train. In the aftermath of the destruction, the kids learn that this accident was no accident, and that the train was not your average train. They narrowly escape the scene before the military locks it down, but soon after, their town is plagued by a series of mysterious occurrences that force the kids to face an unimaginable situation – one that will inevitably bring Joe and his father face-to-face with their issues.

Super 8 Train Crash scene Super 8 Review

The epic train crash scene in 'Super 8'

Let’s be clear: Super 8 is not the sci-fi monster movie that some people may be expecting. There is indeed a strange creature terrorizing the kids’ town, but this plot thread is mostly used for narrative drive, and the creature itself is seldom shown in the film (until the climax, of course).  What the movie chooses to focus on instead, is how this group of kids bond and develop during this extraordinary event – especially Joe and Alice, whose budding romance (and all the problems it causes) is more of a “Romeo & Juliet” story.

Some people may read that description and feel like Super 8 is another bait-and-switch film that promises one thing and delivers another. How a movie is marketed is another topic, but it’s clear in the film that the intention of the filmmakers (Abrams and to lesser extent Spielberg) is to pay homage to ’80s movies like The Goonies, which told coming of age tales by placing children in fantastical (often dangerous) situations. And, as with any coming of age story, the odds of the film’s success rest heavily on the shoulders of its young cast.

The kid characters in Super 8 are pretty thinly drawn – sad kid, crazy kid, egotistical kid, scared kid, etc. – however the young actors playing them are pretty solid. The kids are at once ’70s vintage and very modern, using old slang (“mint!”) combined with a  modern edge (some profanity, but nothing too offensive). Several of the kids are very charismatic (Griffiths as Charles and Ryan Lee as pyromaniac Cary steal just about every scene they’re in), and the two leads (Courtney and Fanning) are downright talented. Their puppy-love romance has many layers of grief, guilt, loneliness and longing bubbling under the surface, and the movie’s best moments come from watching Joe and Alice connect over their pain.

Super 8 Kids cast Super 8 Review

The kids of 'Super 8'

As a newcomer, Courtney isn’t the greatest when it comes to nuance and subtlety – but thankfully the script calls for Joe to be mostly numb and blank-faced instead of openly emotional; his feelings are instead expressed through symbolic means, such as the locket he clutches for comfort. Elle Fanning (the sister of Dakota Fanning) is leagues ahead of the boys, and Abrams wisely puts most of the heavier moments in the film on her shoulders and lets her carry them home. Definite star potential there.

The adults in the film (like the creature) are mostly used for backdrop and filler moments in the story. Kyle Chandler continues to be one of the better actors working today, and pulls off a character arch that is so understated you have to watch his eyes and the very lines of his face to pick out the complexity of what’s going on in deputy Lamb’s troubled head. Ron Eldard similarly does well playing Alice’s dad, Louis Dainard, who he manages to lift out of the realm of cliche (the town drunk / abusive father) up to an equally complex and nuanced performance.

Other faces pop up here and there – Noah Emmerich as the evil military commander, Richard T. Jones as his henchman, other recognizable faces as the townspeople – but they’re not exactly well-developed, interesting or even memorable. The exception is maybe David Gallagher as Donny, the town pothead, a bit part that is milked for maximum hilarity. While the lack of depth in a lot of the characters is noticeable, it isn’t all that disappointing since the young protagonists are really the focus here.

Super 8 Courtney Fanning Chandler Eldard Super 8 Review

Chandler, Courtney, Fanning and Eldard in 'Super 8'

For the most part, J.J. Abrams pulls off a good balance of light humor, drama that’s never too heavy, and some good jump-in-your-seat thrills here and there. The downside is that the final act of the movie devolves into a standard sci-fi action chase, complete with a Spielberg-brand, gooey feel-good ending that does away with a lot of the great foundation built beneath it. However, this is often the case with stories that hinge on some kind of central mystery: the revelations are rarely as satisfying as the anticipation. The creature (for all the mystery surrounding it) isn’t all that impressive, and for some, the character transitions will feel rushed or unearned (I found them to be subtle and nuanced, but that’s just me).

Overall, though, Super 8 is a pretty enjoyable movie experience and the young characters at its center are pretty entertaining. The story is nothing new or revolutionary, but the element of nostalgia is a favorable one. Oh, and for those wondering: Yes, Abrams still manages to fit some of his signature “lens flares” into the movie. Take that how you will.

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to see Super 8, check out the trailer below. If you want to know more about the film’s mysterious creature, watch this revealing viral video.

Finally, to discuss the movie in detail without worrying about ruining it for those who haven’t seen it yet, head over to our Super 8 spoilers discussion.

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Our Rating:

4 out of 5
(Excellent)

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TAGS: 4 star movies, super 8

88 Comments

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  1. I also give Super 8, 4 stars.

  2. i thoroughly enjoyed the movie! and i thought joel courtney was a great actor for someone so young and i thought elle fanning was a bit stiff in some places. she has lots to work on if she wants to catch up with her sister, dakota.

    personally, the kids were all played their characters nicely and i look forward to joel acting more.

    great movie and good emotional moments mixed with light humor. very characteristic of jj abrams

  3. Too many loose ends: 1.) Why did the dogs leave the town and not return?
    2.) Why did the “monster” bond with the young heroic? 3.) What was the Lago/Rubic Cube-like thing? 4.) How likely is it that a train engine will derail when it collides with a truck?
    Your feedback is appreciated.

    • I believe posting this on the spoilers thread is the best thing to do.

      • monster bonded with the kid because it could share thoughts through touch. Dogs left because dogs have a sixth sence for danger. Cubes were building blocks that morphed into space craft pieces. And as for the truck detailing a train movies are not always real.

  4. This was a thin boring movie to watch. Good acting, sound, and filmography, but poorly directed senseless plot and very weak story line, no story line actually. The size of the creature changes to meet the needs of the film making for bad continuity. Pass on this, I would even say wait for the DVD, it’s that bad.

  5. 5/5. I loved this movie, I thought it was phenominal. I haven’t seen a movie this good in a while.

  6. This was one of the worst movies I have seen in awhile. Started off decent, but didnt go anywhere. The losing of a parent has become cliche. If this movie was on the SciFi channel at 7 o’clock on a tuesday I would have been making fun of it, then changing the channel within 15 minutes.1/5 stars just because of the dialogue between the teens, but the weak ending, over the top train accident, AND THE WORST INTERPRETATION OF A POT HEAD I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. Makes me question whether Lost was as good as I remembered.

  7. I’m confused as to what the alien was doing to the captured people, it seemed like the movie implied that it was eating them, but I’m not sure :P

  8. Loved the characterization of the kids. The dialogue was hilarious. Abrams did a good job of re-creating the time period. Liked the way they showed the kids’ movie at the end during the credits.
    BUT the plot left a lot to be desired. They should have done more along the way to make the alien sympathetic, instead of just having the teacher say, “He is in me, and I in him” before he died (awful, over-the-top line).
    I would have liked the movie better without the alien plot line–just more development of the other stuff. I thought there was going to be more to the feud between Joe and Alice’s dads than just the shift-change revelation. After all, Joe’s mom did agree to take the guy’s shift and was going to be paid for it. (Would Joe’s father really have been allowed to handcuff Alice’s dad and take him away in a police car just because he showed up at the funeral reception??? And why was Alice’s father so hostile toward Joe?) I liked Charles’s quirky family and wanted to find out about the pyro kid’s family.
    If they took out the monsters, the characters could carry a good weekly series on TV.

  9. Thank you this was very helpful! :)

  10. NEW AGED E.T. ……….I’VE SEEN BETTER. I THINK DUDE’S LITTLE MOVIE WAS BETTER THAN THE ENTIRE MOVIE!!!

  11. All the elements seemed to be there: the teens friends, the suburban environment, the secrets “grown-ups” are not supposed to know about, the bicycles, the fat kid, the bad US army, the single parents, even the same time period (1979) and the same style of cinematography (night-time flares on the lens) and big soundtrack (a rousing score, mixed in with gentle and intimate piano cues).
    But are all those elements enough to reach the perfection of films like E.T? If you were cooking from a recipes book and you had all the right ingredients, would you still get it the cake right? You can easily guess the answer.There was really nothing massively wrong with Super 8 (the film is well done, well acted, is even under two hours and I’m sure it will please most of the crowds out there), but sadly there was also nothing original or surprising either.
    I liked it, and I loved it’s intentions, but I couldn’t really love the film…
    Still better than a lot of the stuff out there
    My full review wp.me/p19wJ2-mh

  12. I loved Super 8. Definitely exceeded any expectation I had for the movie. I actually just wrote a review for the movie over at Wrecked, a new entertainment website run by regular guys like you. Check out my review here: http://wp.me/s1iCBb-super8

    • Agree. It rocked!

  13. This mOvie was amazing but scary

  14. Super 8 isn’t about aliens or the Soviet threat. If you’ve seen the movie, or don’t mind spoilers, read what I think the alien represents at: http://bit.ly/ksm89E

    • I enjoy your take on the movie’s metaphor’s a lot, do you mind if I feature that on our site? send me an email, ivan@wreckedreviews.com

  15. Super 8 was a pretty decent movie full of nostalgia. Its worth watching just to get to watch the movie made by the characters during the end credits.

  16. I just want to see the film that was shown in the credits “the case” that the characters were working on through out this movie
    How can I view it on line

  17. AWESOME movie! scary,but always had me intersested

  18. im usually a big fan of these films but is it me or was it a big let down and dissapointment? the best parts of the film were wrapped up in the films preview trailer. here we go again and like war of the worlds everything revolves around some kind of love story but this time involving 2 young teenagers (as i stick my fingers down my throat on certain scenes!). the film just seemed to focus around these kids with the odd appearance of the alien stomping around and the end sequence when the lad speaks to the alien was just sheer nonsense. typical spielberg out of touch. he wrecked war of the worlds remake and the ending to Indiana Jones 4. Speilberg was o.k. in the 70′s and early 80′s but sorry i think hes had his day. If I had the chance to re-see this film I would probably wait until it came out on Blu-ray with Lovefilm. Not worth £7.50 in the cinema.

  19. I would give it 3/5. Not bad, but not surprising enough either.

    Yes, I’m a Goonies, ET, Close Encounters fan too (born in ’72) but this was a dull remake and you notice. The setting was ok, the look and feel also and most kids really played well, the alien was mysterious till the last third which I thought was a bit of a shame. They should not have shown too much of it in the end. As many have stated here before, the magic was missing and the story really was ET reloaded, without using the phone this time though :).

    No need to see it on the big screen, renting would do, the big screen did not add too much to the experience. I really missed the “big” moments.

    I have the general feeling that older movies tend to have much more story built into them, they “seem” to be longer….this last happend to me on a more recent movie with inception and Potter finale part 1, I had the feeling of a really long movie and dense plot, if you compare it to TF2/TF3/Sucker Punch you get what I mean (brainless plot jumping action flic popcorn movie, but you feel empty and partly unsatisfied after watching it). If I look back at Poltergeist or Close Encounters it seems like a thick book compared to the comic magazine style of newer action productions. Just because we can do something with visual FX it does not mean it adds anything to the movie, actually it takes more off the movie on most occasions, just remember when the CG crowd simulations started to show up in movies…omg toooooo many armies etc. (Mummy movies, even LOTR sometimes).

    But I am sure kids will love Super 8 much more than peaople of my age….it has most of the ingredients.

  20. When i was growing up, femanism had succeeding in atleast minimally respecting the need for female characters and character development – even in stories about aliens and a posse of kids (ET). Yet here i am shocked and dumbfounded that there are not only virtually no girls or women in this flick, but the one who is playing the token sexy blond gets slapped by the “hero”. This film is sliding pop-culture back down a slipery paternalistic slope. Yuck! I love sci-fi and adventure, but not at this cost.

    • Are you kidding me? What do you mean ‘hot blond’ they where all like twelve years old and the director never played her role as if she was typical hot blond but rather a bothered, independent girl who was cute but not necessarily in a classic way and I was sort of pissed of at Joe for not slapping her earlier. His friend was friken distracting a giant man eating alien and he was just going on shaking her for like five minutes even though she showed no signs of waking. In those situations you slap some one awake if you want to live.
      I understand feminism (as its spelled) I am one myself and while, yes, they could have used a few more female characters, her being a ‘hot blond’ and him slapping her to save their lives is not an issue for feminism. There are other things to complain about but not that.

  21. Just saw it again with my sis. She screamed through the whole thing. Definitely better the second time around. Loved it!

    The audience clapped BEFORE the movie began, haven’t seen that in a loooong time.

  22. Town children meet abused, misunderstood monster. Kid informs monster everything’s OK, so monster leaves. Good photography, special effects, nothing else.

    Spielberg must be entering the first stages of dementia, by the looks of it.