REVIEW: “Super 8”

SUPER 8 Poster

“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 filming their home 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.

SUPER 8

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 movie, 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 its interest. The creature isn’t that frightening and much of what happens in the second half seems contrived. Compound that by an ending that packs 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, most of which comes 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.

VERDICT – 2.5 STARS

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34 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Super 8”

    • It’s really a tale of two movies for me. The first half was exactly how you described. I liked it a lot. I think that’s why the second half was so frustrating. I really wanted them to finish strong.

  1. I really didn’t like Super 8. The ending is very odd and the whole thing seemed to be hammering home a Hollywoodised “family values” schtick that just didn’t work for me.

  2. Good review Keith. One of my favorites from 2011, regardless of how much of a carbon-copy of Spielberg’s older movies it may seem to be. It worked hella good for me.

    • I think most people really liked it. It just ended up too conventional and predictable for me. I remember the trailers were really intriguing and for the first half of the movie I was all on board. It just fell apart for me at the end I guess.

  3. I was so disappointed in this movie. There were just too many dumb things going on and the alien’s plan really made no sense. Why didn’t it just collect all of its ship pieces at the train crash? Why would they transport the alien on a train in the first place? Why would the transport the alien on a train WITH the parts of its ship? And really, that one locket was the final piece the alien needed when there were literally hundreds of other metal objects flying around? Ugh. The best part by far was the homemade zombie film at the end.

  4. Hi Keith! I think I have the same quibbles about this movie when I saw it. It started out with so much potential but yeah, it went off the rails! The suspense just didn’t have a good pay off, though there are some good moments throughout. I thought Elle Fanning was quite memorable here, perhaps more than the aliens, ahah.

  5. I agree with you that the quality drops after the opening hour, but I think it’s a minor shift downward. I loved the first parts about making the movie, but I was still engaged throughout because I was connected to the kids. They felt more real, and any profanity helped with making them seem less idealized. It’s not perfect and is trying a bit too hard with the nostalgia, but I had a lot of fun with the film. I really need to watch it again and see how it holds up for me.

  6. I’d also say that I liked this one and gave a forgivness to the ending and much of the second half of the film because I was wrapped up in the story about the kids. The ending was too ET cliche’ and ‘Hollywood Summer Blockbuster’ style. The thing that made up for it was late in the end credits when they showed the 8mm film the kids had finished and entered into the contest. That for me, redeemed the lackluster ending.

  7. I agree totally with your review, Keith. Loved a lot about it–the feel of 1979, the feel of The Goonies, the innocence of youth finding the way and becoming heroes–but the modern twist was jarring and I felt somewhat cheated.

  8. Excellent review. The movie is outstanding early on, as we focus on the young would-be filmmakers, but loses steam when it turns to the monster. Even when it is good it is entirely derivative, including the profanity by the kids. Think “Stand by Me,” and “The Monster Squad” among others, both of which are clearly influences aside from the work of Spielberg. Overall it’s pretty good, but should have been better.

    • Thank you. I’m with you all the way. It really should have been better. All the ingredients are there for a really, really good movie. Unfortunately it squanders most of that in the second half.

  9. Nice work Keith. I’m with you completely on this, I hated the way this ended. It was completely lame; a cop-out to an otherwise spooky and tension-filled film that, as you put it, is brimming with nostalgic power. I’ll take it for the first half as well.

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