“Super 8″ is a film that does so many things right. That’s why it was so disheartening to see it’s numerous flaws which are just too glaring to overlook. Crafted from the collaborative minds of J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg, “Super 8″ is a small town sci-fi picture that starts off strong but eventually squanders it’s momentum by turning into a run-of-the-mill monster movie that loses any sense of originality.
The story is fairly simple. Set in 1979 small town Ohio, “Super 8″ follows a group of kids who witness a massive train derailment while out late at night filming a zombie movie on Super 8 film. It turns out the train belongs to the United States Air Force who go to great lengths to suppress any inquiries about what the train was carrying. Strange things begin to happen around town and it’s soon revealed that the military was hiding a mysterious and dangerous creature which is now on the loose. Now it may not sound like it but there is enough material there for a good movie and the first half of the film does a nice job developing the tension and mystery. But the second half of the movie goes off the rails (pun completely intended). Abrams puts more effort into being a nostalgic homage to the Spielberg pictures of old than he does into sustaining an original and unpredictable story.
Clearly Abrams is tipping his hat to a style of films that many of us grew up on. In many ways, especially in the first half of the film, he does a nice job of recreating that tone and feel. He also wonderfully captures that late 70s to early 80s period through the wardrobes, vehicles, haircuts, and some genuinely funny jokes. At times “Super 8″ also feels like a movie about making movies. Some of the best parts of the picture deals with the kids and their love and dedication to creating their own film. I also felt the movie was stronger when it was dealing with the kids, their friendships, and their family struggles at home. Once the movie concentrates on the creature story, it loses a great deal of it’s charm and interest. The creature isn’t that frightening and much of what was happens in the second half seems contrived while the ending packed little to no punch whatsoever.
“Super 8″ may be about a bunch of kids but it certainly didn’t seem aimed at kids. Personally I was a bit turned off by the pointless profanity, much of which came from the kids. It added nothing to the picture and served as more of a distraction. The kids do deliver some genuinely strong performances, especially Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning. Their characters develop a friendship and fledgling romance that feels genuine and natural. Like everything else in the film, they are at their best in the first half of the picture.
There’s no denying that “Super 8″ has a high production value. There is some fantastic camera work and the special effects, not counting the creature, are quite good. There are tons of cool references back to 1979 and the film does feel like a picture from that time. But at the midway point it transforms into a conventional monster flick featuring potty-mouthed kids and a rather bland finale. As I said at the start of the review, “Super 8″ does many things right. I only wish the entire movie could have captured the magic that we see in it’s first 40 minutes.