Super 8 is admittedly not a perfect film, but I enjoyed it so much, and was so taken by the characters and the actors playing them, that I didn't really mind the occasional inconsistency or lingering "awed expressions" scene.
Set in a small town in Ohio in 1979, the basic plot centers around Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a 13-year-old boy whose mother recently died in a factory accident, leaving him with only his father, Jackson (Kyle Chandler), a sheriff's deputy who's a more than decent man but who has never known how to really be a father. Jackson's escape is burying himself in his work, while Joe's is helping his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) make an amateur zombie movie with the help of their other friends Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Cary (Ryan Lee). But Joe's involvement becomes truly committed when Charles persuades Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), a girl he secretly has a crush on, to join the project.
Things taken a sudden turn when, in the midst of shooting a midnight scene at the local railroad depot, Joe sees a pickup truck suddenly drive onto the tracks, directly in the path of an oncoming freight train, resulting in a spectacular crash that sends freight cars derailing everywhere and the shocked kids running for cover. The plot quickly thickens when Joe gets a glimpse of something bursting out of one of the freight cars, and when they find the driver of the pickup, badly injured, is Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), their biology teacher, who warns them to get away and to never speak of what they've seen to anyone or they - and their parents - will be killed. And then there's the knocked over Super 8 camera that has been continuing to roll throughout everything, capturing something that no one else saw while they were busy tried not to get crushed by flying debris. Something that will become important later as strange things begin to happen: dogs fleeing the town for no apparent reason, car engines and other pieces of machinery being stolen, people suddenly disappearing. And of course the massive influx of military personnel who are crawling all over everything while their commander, Col. Nelec (Noah Emmerich) blandly insists that there's _nothing_ going on.
The characters are well drawn, fleshed out with real personalities, quirks and flaws, and you very quickly come to care about them. And the actors, most of them either fairly unknown or newcomers, are marvelous, the kids in particular as they're at the heart of the film, but also the adults, particularly Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard as the two fathers linked - and separated - by tragedy, each not doing so well at dealing with it. Joel Courtney as Joe has one of those faces that projects everything he's feeling, from the distance he's experiencing with his dad to the secret yet painfully obvious crush he has on Alice. Riley Griffiths as his best friend Charles is a perfect counterpoint, pursuing his film with single-minded determination but holding other things in. Ryan Lee's pint-sized braces-laden (and explosives-crazy) Cary is a riot, as is Gabriel Basso's Martin as the zombie film's leading man who has an unfortunate tendency to puke a lot, while Zach Mills' Preston has the healthiest fear-instinct of the crowd. And last but not least, Elle Fanning's Alice is a wonder, a sensitive girl with her own father issues whose unexpected natural talent at acting leaves the boys with their jaws hanging.
Super 8 is highly derivative, but in a good way. It draws on the best parts of any number of movies from the past, most notably E.T. (1982) and The Goonies (1985) but also films like Joe Dante's Explorers (1985) , The Bad News Bears (1976) and, more recently, Son of Rambow (2007), a little seen but marvelous independent British film about a couple of boys with family issues who bond over making an amateur movie.
Note: in one scene, there's a definite tip-of-the-hat prop taken right out of Spielberg's E.T. Just keep your eyes peeled when the camera closes in on the water tower near the climax of the movie and see if anything looks strikingly familiar.
There are admittedly weak points in the film, mainly where it seems uncertain of just which direction it wants to take or where inconsistencies tend to be glaring. Is the alien dangerous and deadly... or just misunderstood? Is the alien killing people... or just holding on to them for a while? The trouble is that in different parts of the film it's definitely one, but in other parts of the film it's the other. And the climactic lingering "awed expressions" scene does feel at odds with the the life-threatening dangers the characters were experiencing earlier (not to mention the burning shambles half the town has been reduced to). Another weak point is the villain, Col. Nelec (I suspect the name Nelec is an in-joke of some kind), who is never anything but a cliched military bad guy. But as I said, while these things do keep it from being a perfect film, they don't in the end get in the way from it being an engaging and enjoyable one.
Highly recommended for anyone who likes an engaging film that sucks you in and keeps you involved all the way through, and that values story and character over special effects and stars.
on November 24, 2011
I've read bad things about Super 8. After watching it, I don't really understand what some peoples' issue is with it. There was an almost constant smile on my face. The characters were generally likable, the action sequences were well done (though admittedly, the train crash scene probably brought a tear to Michael Bay's eye), the story was simple yet effective, the production values were off the charts. Will this movie be heralded in the future as a classic like, perhaps, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or E.T.? No. But it's still a great movie, and a lot of fun to watch. J.J. Abrams is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern Science Fiction directors.
on July 17, 2011
Every now and then, a film comes along and reminds you of the way it used to be. Back in the eighties, blockbusters were made with heart. Everything from the acting to the direction was top-notch, especially if the film in question was a Spielberg film. Steven Spielberg is one of the best film directors in the industry. His love of the medium shines in just about every project that he has been a part of. Some of the most influential films of the past have his name attached to them, namely E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Jurassic Park. He deals with fantastical themes with a heartfelt, childlike curiosity - a definite trademark that appears in many of his films. Recently, director J.J. Abrams made a film which can be seen as a love letter to Spielberg. This film is `Super 8', and it is one of the best offerings of the summer, as well as one of the best films of the year. And, for those of you who have followed me over the past two years, the mere fact that I am glowing over a mainstream blockbuster is nothing short of a miracle.
The film opens in Lillian, Ohio in 1979, and follows a group of close-knit boys during summer break, as they attempt to film a zombie flick with a Super 8 camera. Young Joe Lamb has recently lost his mother in a steel mill accident, and as a way to cope with his loss, he vows to help his best friend, the film-obsessed Charles, complete his latest cinematic masterpiece. Together with three other boys, and his latest crush, Alice, Joe slowly begins a journey of self-discovery. Everything changes one night during a film shoot, when the boys witness, and barely manage to escape, a horrific train wreck. The kids flee the site, as the U.S. Air Force arrives.
This leads to strange phenomena in the town; pets running away from their owners, the disappearance of car engines and power lines, and people being abducted. Soon after, the boys discover some disturbing footage which was caught during the train crash, while the camera was still rolling film. Something crawls up out the wreckage, and dashes out of the frame. The boys decide to delve into the mystery themselves, and the adventure begins.
The performances in this film are amazing, especially from newcomer Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, and Elle Fanning. Each delivers an incredibly genuine performance, and I was blown away by the raw energy displayed on screen. The direction is perfect, with splashes of J.J. Abrams idol, Spielberg, splashed about the screen in nearly every frame. The musical score is magical. The mystery is involving. It all makes for an excellent time at the theatre, and will make you long for the days when summer blockbusters had a soul. With strong messages of hope and forgiveness, it is also one of the most touching films to come out in a while.
Super 8 is rated PG-13, and is 112 minutes.
on June 10, 2011
I saw Super 8 at IMAX today. LOVED it and want to see it again, soon! I laughed, I cried, and I jumped up out of my seat 8 times! It was a fun, fun nostalgic ride on an early summer afternoon. The late 1970's music, costumes, location, and set props were right on. Fantastic cinematography, sound design, and special affects.
Ahhhh, but this movie has heart in the story and in the acting. Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, and the new young actor who plays Joe Lamb steal the movie. This 'coming of age' story is set in a more innocent time, before middle schoolers began 'hooking up.' The rest of the kids who make up the motley film crew are believably hilarious. Each cleverly has his or her own specialty in film making. You can only imagine a young JJ Abrams doing the same thing when he was a boy.
Super 8 is not the BEST movie I've ever seen, and the ending is somewhat predictable. But it is the BEST movie I've seen in a long, long time.
on October 22, 2011
First off, I just finished watching an advance blu-ray copy of this film and the movie and blu-ray transfer blew me away. IMO, this film is one of the very best of 2011 and if you are a fan of "old-fashioned" type drama/suspense films that have to do with extra-terrestrial life and what happens to a small rural community in the late 1970's is truly a film that will stay with you long after the movie's end. To give any more away would be a sin, so I won't.
The blu-ray video and audio is fantastic. The aspect ratio is what appears to be 2.35:1 or thereabouts (Amazon has it wrong at 1.85:1). The video throughout is pristine with vivid colors in the daylight scenes and ink blacks in the night scenes. Details are vivid as you would expect from a top-notch blu-ray transfer. The audio equals the quality of the video and I've had to monitor the volume because I live in an apartment and use a 9.1 speaker configuration. Vocals came mainly from the center speaker along with the two front speakers that sometimes spilled over to the speakers located in the right and left middle ends of the room. Music and sounds were extremely active in all the remaining speakers. This film's sound truly rocked my movie room.
I have over a thousand blu-rays and this film is in the top two of all films made and released in 2011. YES, it is that good!!!
I just pre-ordered this from Amazon.com at the price of $24.99 and that's more than I usually pay for a new movie on blu-ray. I usually wait until the price comes down (which almost always happens) a few months down the road. But this is one film I have to have on release day.
on December 18, 2011
I have read alot about parallels to E.T. and such regarding this movie. I would say those are loose comparisons at best. While there is a scene that is specifically reminiscent of E.T., this movie is quite a bit different.
The alien, for one, actually eats people, and is far from the small, cute, and cuddly alien featured in E.T...also, it doesnt really develop relationships with people. It is seeking a way to "go home", as it were, and there is a military quarantine.
Anyway, the cast was pretty good, and the interaction between the featured children (of tween age i think) was decent. The premise that they were filming a zombie movie when they end up witnessing a train derail, which ends up freeing the alien, was pretty cool. The local animals fleeing the area (presumably due to the presence of an unnaturally large predator) seemed like something that would actually happen.
Where the movie falls flat to me is...the alien is a massive predator, eating people, and destroying a bunch of stuff, but is also cast as a sympathetic character. They try to rationalize this approach by saying that it learned to hate humans after it was initially captured (Roswell), held prisoner, tortured and tested upon by our military scientists. It is able to communicate telepathically through contact (would that be empathically?). Still, it doesnt seem to care about the humans it captures for food, even though they are just ordinary folks with no ties to the military or their scientists. Yet, when the star tween touches him, he suddenly decides not to eat anybody else, and rather focus on finishing his ship and leaving.
There is no fond farewell, no conversation outside of a single empathic moment between the tween and the alien. It just kind of ends. The alien leaves and everybody is left to pick up the pieces of a shattered town. Presumably, the gov't would later say a hallucinogenic gas was released into the air accidentally by way of a weather balloon causing the locals to see things as they destroyed their own town (at least, i figure that is how this would play out in real life). The movie though...it just kind of ends. The alien leaves and everybody is happy (outside of those people who were killed by the now seemingly misunderstood alien). To me, the movie was basically a big build up where everybody is scared which then shifts suddenly and tries to become a social consciousness type message about kindness and understanding. Didnt really work for me. No real peak...the movie just kind of flatlined.
Had i known before watching this that JJ Abrams was the responsible party, i would probably have skipped this one, since i know better than to trust any project he is involved with. Nonetheless, i dont regret watching this movie, but i was far from impressed.
on November 24, 2011
Cinematography was superb. Exactly the quality you expect from Spielberg and Abrams. It reminded me of Cloverfield, E.T., and The Goonies all rolled into one. The kids were excellent actors.
However, once you reach the end of the film you feel as though you missed something somewhere, as though this film was part 2 of a 2-part film. Something was greatly lacking in the story. In E.T. for example, the alien and the boy slowly build a relationship so that you feel for them in their emotional parting. But in the case of Super8, the alien and boy are total strangers but behave as though they had built some wonderful relationship between them. The boy seemed to have discovered something endearing about the alien that the audience is not privy to and is unrealistically brave and devoid of fear when put face to face with a nightmarish creature that hardened military men feared. As the alien sailed away in his spaceship, all I could think was, "Farewell... who ever you were...".
on September 9, 2011
I think of myself as extremely lucky to of been a little kid when I was in the 80s. It was the perfect time. I was experiencing first hand the filmmakers (and films) that formed my childhood (Spielberg, Lucas, Zemeckis, Dante, etc.) at the height of their powers. E.T., The Goonies, Back To The Future, Gremlins, Stand By Me, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, The Monster Squad, et al. Movies were magical. Going to them was an event. Standing in line was exciting. They stayed with you, and are still with you today. Sadly, that's been gone for a long time. Sure, there may be a summer blockbuster that's fun, but it doesn't have 'it'. Most are just empty, soulless CGI-fests that won't still be lauded 25 years from now. J.J. Abrams decided to do something about it. Let's get to it.
Set in 1979, we meet Joe, a young boy who just suffered a horrible loss. He lives with his sheriff father (Kyle Chandler) and has a few friends. One night, he and his friends decide to go out and make their own zombie movie. While shooting down by the train tracks, they witness a horrible accident as a truck collides with an oncoming train in a truly spectacular crash. Little do our little friends know that they captured what was in the train's cargo, and mysterious and strange things begin to happen in town. I'll just stop there and let you experience the rest.
"Super 8" is nostalgic and fun just not for the times, but for the type of filmmaking on display here. Spielbergian shots and lens flares, story over spectacle (although there is that), and real humanistic kids you instantly like, care for, and you want to see what happens to them. Back when kids were kids and they talked and acted like kids, just like those great films of the 80s. It was so refrshing to see this instead of the typical modern kids in movies who like so polished and like they just stepped off of the newest low rated CW show. These kids are from 1979, but I find them more relatable and interesting than anything I have seen in the last decade or more. Obviously, there is an homage to producer Spielberg here, and even though there is that, the film is still it's own movie. The fact that it appears to be a love letter to E.T.'s dad is not a deterrent. It's a great, new, original movie from J.J. wrapped in touches to Spielberg and other films from that era. And what touches. I can't say that I am familiar with Abrams' work. I have never seen anything he has ever done before. I will now! He is a director to be reckoned with here. The love and detail he puts into his scenes, characters, and era the film is set in, is so lovingly detailed. It's quite an accomplishment.
"Super 8" harks back to a time when these films meant something to the audience. Meant something to the kids. Nowadays, it's all about cartoonish CGI, 3D, and what young adult novels a studio can get their hands on and everything else comes after. Abrams and company were brave to make an original and secretive film and release it in summer. Brave to actually make it with heart, passion, emotion, and characters that actually came first. The ending and eventual outcome may not of been as great as it could of been, but that's okay. With a movie this lovingly skilled and well done in every other place, and the fact they we just got such a film like this in the first place, made up for it for me. It's not going to take away anything from the movie. The acting is top notch. These kids are great. These are the best set of kids I have seen in a movie in a long time. The actors, most of whom have never been in a movie, just shine. Kyle Chandler also does very well in his role. Ron Eldard is also on hand. More brave points to Abrams for casting the movie with no real marquee name star.
"Super 8" is an exceptional movie that really delivers what I was hoping it would. It's funny, sweet, adventurous, exciting, scary, and interesting. Is it too self indulgent in it's homages of films past? Of course not. A good movie is a good movie however it's told and made. It's a movie that we should embrace and hold dear because it's unlikely we are going to get another movie like this for a long time....if ever. Abrams and his cast and crew should be proud of the film they made. As a child of the 80s, this movie made me feel like a kid again. The first summer blockbuster movie I have seen in eons where I kept thinking about days afterwards. I really don't know what else to say except that "Super 8" is a gift.
I keep seeing this compared to Goonies & ET. It's got it's similarities but it differs radically, and these differences may mean that it's not a good movie choice for kids. I'll explain below, plus here's the pros and cons of this movie:
1. The acting is phenomenal. The kids are just amazing. Each of them was absolutely believable and brought depth to their characters. I could totally relate to several of the kids. The adults were good as well, but they really weren't featured and developed enough to make a huge difference.
2. The production value was amazing. What else would you expect from a Speilberg movie! The action sequences were riveting.
3. The 1979 setting was very authentic and fun. Since I was around in that time period, it was great to see.
4. The relationships between the kids were so well developed, and the main kids individual characters were beautifully written for and developed. This was what made the movie worthwhile.
5. As in Goonies and ET, the kids are the heroes in this movie. They're the ones who know the truth and act on it for good. They're pure of heart, resourceful, determined and put themselves at risk to act like heroes.
1. This had a horror movie feel. There was plenty of violence, and it was scary. This movie is not for young kids. Those who don't like horror should avoid this movie. Granted most of it wasn't explicitly gory, but there was some blood and plenty of people died violently. There are many moments designed to shock, startle and scare you. Though it's rated PG-13, I'd say it feels closer to an R rating to me.
2. If you're looking for a feel good alien like in ET, it's not here. The audience is not given much of a chance to emotionally connect with the alien. It's ugly, scary, violent and mysterious. I don't want to give anything away, but this is not a feel good, cuddle the alien, cute movie similar to ET. You may still enjoy this flick, but go in with the right expectations.
3. There are tons of holes in the movie. There are many questions that are never answered, and a couple featured characters that are never fully explained. I don't always mind holes in movie lines if the movie is entertaining, but in this movie it was hard to ignore.
4. The story line just wasn't that original. Take a bunch of different movies, put them in a jug and shake them together and you get this movie. I don't always mind a repeated story line if it's entertaining or moving, but this was just okay for me.
So I'd say that if you like horror, this movie may be for you, though you may be disappointed with the lack of explicit gore. If you like scifi, this movie may be somewhat satisfying, but it probably won't be in your top 20. If you like coming of age movies, you'll love the story lines around the kids. If you love special effects, there are some good ones here. This movie is definitely not for young kids or for anyone who shouldn't be viewing horror.
I'd say this is a video to rent on DVD. Then if you love it, buy it.
on December 4, 2011
Super 8 is a remarkably entertaining movie, especially for those of us who lived through the '70's, before working class became coterminous with working poor. If you missed that decade, the ambience provided by the old steel mill town of Weirton, West Virginia may seem implausible and a bit hokey.
The plot line is pretty simple, and I admit that it does invite comparison with another of Spielberg's films, namely the blockbuster hit E.T. The parallels are not so close, however, as to legitimate the suspicion that
Spielberg is just stealing from his past successes and recycling old ideas. After all, the kids in Super 8 are older, the action scenes are astonishing, viewers are treated to a really cleverly done instance of a film within a film, and we've even got romance.
I have no idea where the kid actors came from, but they are very good. Each in his or her own way is engaging and, for the most part, quite believable. The kids are at their best when appearing in their own zombie-themed movie, so be sure to watch it along with the closing credits. It's really interesting to see them portray kid actors making a kid movie -- stilted, stiff, and stammering -- after they've shown us that none of these afflictions of youth and inexperience hamper their performances in Super 8 proper.
Glyn Turman does a fine job as Dr. Woodward. (He's probably best known as the mayor of Baltimore in the HBO series The Wire, and fans of In Treatment will also recognize him.) The rest of the adult cast is adequate, but it's the kids who steal the show.
I first saw Super 8 in a theater and a year or so later on DVD. I loved it both times. It is, indeed, a lot of fun.