Super 8 (2011)
Reviewed on 2011 June 29
I have to say I was somewhat disappointed in this, along with the realization that I should have known what I was getting. Yes, I knew it was a Stephen Spielberg movie and that he goes for the soft fuzzies, but I also knew JJ Abrams was involved, and the heartwarming stuff isn’t quite his thing. Unfortunately, Spielberg’s softness outstripped Abrams’s monster-fu, making this kind of like a more intense E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. It was well-made, with top-flight acting from the younger actors, but I still was hoping for something darker when I saw Abrams was connected to it.
It’s the summer of 1979, and a group of precocious kids are trying to finish their own amateur movie in time for a contest. One of them, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), is still reeling from a family tragedy, and is glad to have something to distract him. His father Jackson (Kyle Chandler) wants him to go away for the summer, but Joe is happy where he is, with his friends. There’s not a lot to do in Lillian, Ohio, and you’d think Jackson would be happy his kid was hanging out with a bunch of smart kids whose goal was to create something, and not just party, but he’s still fighting his own demons.
The show must go on and the crew finds ways to get the film underway, with or without their parents being on board. Even though she doesn’t have a license yet, one of them, Alice (Elle Fanning), can technically even drive, sneaking her father’s car to take the crew to the train station one night. They want to catch a late-night train, adding what director Charles (Riley Griffiths) calls “production values.” Before the camera rolls, a train crashes (and I have to admit, this part is incredible). The kids quickly realize they saw something that doesn’t gel with the news reports being fed to the public.
I liked the build-up, and the acting is phenomenal, especially from the young people, and I have to admit that they were also given some of the most realistic dialogue: they sounded like my friends and I when we were fourteen, and trying to accomplish something (though I think our big ouevre was a backyard fort). My problem was with the last third of the movie; I know some people claim it was rushed, but I didn’t pick up on that so much as I felt like Spielberg stepped in here and sugar-coated it. I wasn’t expecting scary, but I was hoping for more of an old-fashioned monster movie, and this felt like a rougher-edged melding of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. It was very well-done for what it was, but we’ve been here before.
Two chocolate morsels and some Pop Rocks®, or any other ’70s-era snack. And stay for the credits!