Reviews

Super 8

4

JJ, Spielberg and an extra-nasty terrestrial…

Super 8 review

There was a time, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when blockbusters had heart and soul to go with their balls, when the testosterone and the money shots were duly arrived at after periods of intimacy.

Super 8, the old charmer, returns to such innocent times, assuredly delivering bang for buck but – first and foremost – respecting old-fashioned concepts like, y’know, character, emotion, storytelling…
 
Super 8’s creator is, of course, Jeffrey Jacob Abrams, or plain old JJ to the millions of people who think of him warmly after Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Cloverfield and Lost.

This is his “personal project”, much as E.T. was Steven Spielberg’s, who here co-produces.
 
Set in 1979, when JJ, aged 13, was holed up in his cluttered bedroom making models to blow up on film, Super 8 tells of movie-obsessed Charles (Riley Griffiths) and best friend Joe (Joel Courtney), the leaders of a group of pre-teen kids who run about town shooting a zombie epic on an Emuig Super 8 camera.

Sneaking from their beds to film a night scene at the local train station, they continue to roll as a US Air Force freight charges past (“Production values!”) and crashes explosively.
 
Then things get really weird. Generators and car engines burn out, power cables and microwaves disappear. The town’s dogs hightail it to neighbouring counties.

And the military roll in under the stern command of Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich), a man who dost protest too much when questioned by Deputy Lamb (Kyle Chandler), AKA Joe’s dad: “If you’re asking me if we had any dangerous property on board this train,” glowers Nelec, “I can assure you the answer is no.”
 
If Super 8 is JJ’s own childhood spliced with a rambunctious monster movie, it is inevitable it should look and feel like an early Spielberg picture, for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T., Poltergeist, Gremlins, The Goonies and Back To The Future shaped a generation.

The film’s overrun setting, a small Ohio town, population 11,200, is pure Spielburbia – acknowledged by the E.T.-doffing shot of the twinkling burg spread out below, a beacon to attract the trouble that’s arrived in the night.

The kids’ bedrooms, like Elliott’s, are jumbled dens, and the town’s rolling topography, all slopes and ridges, recalls E.T.’s famous bike chase while allowing Super 8’s climactic, panoramic action to play out at various vertical and horizontal depths without recourse to crane shots or focus pulls.
 
Like Spielberg, Abrams has an eye for awe, his deft orchestration of indelible images – a tank trundling through a children’s playground, a plot-pivotal landmark framed in the distance through a small hole in a bedroom wall – marking him as a born storyteller.

He’s no slouch when it comes to suspense either, and it’s this skill as much as the kids’ goofing that marks the film’s first half, when the creature remains cloaked, as the superior segment.
 
Standout sequence? A classic bit of shadow play involving a gas station, a teen attendant listening to Blondie’s ‘Heart Of Glass’ on his Walkman, a cop filling his cruiser to the plaintive ting-ting-ting of the gas pump, some rustling treetops and, finally, an out-of-focus attack.

If the monster-reveal to come and the increasingly close-up close-ups that follow never quite match the early frisson generated by shooting empty spaces filled with the viewers’ imagination, then it is, perhaps, inevitable.

JJ’s monster is a good ’un, perhaps too good given its 2011 CGI threatens to jar in a movie that’s not just set in 1979 but could, for the most part, have been made in 1979.

But it’s no match for the Alien Queen or The Thing. Or, indeed, the amorphous terrors of Lost and Cloverfield.
 
The kids, mind, are faultless. Unlike the silicon-soul LA brats who inhabit most modern movies (though Elle Fanning, terrific as the cool older girl who Joe and Charles moon over, is exactly that), this terrific troupe recall not just early Spielberg but ’80s favourites Stand By Me and The Monster Squad.

It’s there in the gap-toothed grins, fleshy frames, oversized spectacles and bowl haircuts, and it’s there also in the insouciant banter spiked with colourful lingo (“Holy shit, that’s mint!”; “Dude, that’s bitchin’!”; “This is insane!”).
 
Maybe the kids feel real because JJ had friends just like them, or maybe it’s because they’re borrowed from movies where they felt real the first time round, and are here presented with sincerity.

Whatever the reason, they’re a riot to hang out with, and their heartache – Joe’s mom has just died, all of them are outsiders – feels genuine, though it never wrenches like Elliott’s absent father or Gordie LaChance’s dead older brother.
 
Too much thick-throated emotion is stirred into the wondrous, mawkish finale.

The blend of sentiment and spectacle here evokes Spielberg at his worst as well as his best, and the film’s subtext is heavily underlined in case we missed it.

But even this bum note at the end of a too-frantic third act won’t stop Super 8 from being, hands down, the film of the summer.

Only a young Spielberg at the top of his game could beat it.

Verdict:

A monster mash-up of '50s sci-fi, late-'70s / early '80s event movie and autobiography, Super 8 doesn’t possess the top-to-bottom greatness of the films it’s modelled on but, in shooting for the stars, leaves 90% of modern blockbusters in the gutter. Mint.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • writerdave87

      Jun 1st 2011, 0:17

      5 stars? Bloody hell I'll be going to see this!

      Alert a moderator

    • baldeelox

      Jun 1st 2011, 5:57

      Being and englishman in the US right now you can believe I am going to be watching it here and NOT going back home to wait 2 months sod that!!! Does the film industry realise that with now what can be considered a long delay means torrent freaks will have watched it before it hits the UK shores...Paramount please wake up...simultaneous releases work whats with the delay??? anyway I said this wuld be the film of the year and I believe I will be right!!! get in

      Alert a moderator

    • jolopity

      Jun 1st 2011, 8:27

      Well I absolutely cannot wait to watch Super 8 and I agree with Baldeelox, why on earth do we still have to wait 2 months for a film release here! It's disgraceful & to be honest I just don't see the benefit! If I weren't such a snob I'd be downloading it in an instant, but as it is I like to appreciate a film as it was intended - Cinema style! Also Total Film when did you stop reviewing films and start comparing them to others. If I didn't already know plenty about Super 8, based on your review (comparison) I wouldn't have wanted to go watch it, 5 starts or not!

      Alert a moderator

    • fortunesfool

      Jun 1st 2011, 9:25

      I'm intrigued, but stop comparing Abrams with Spielberg. I've seen Mi3 and Star Trek, and if you think the guy that 'directed' them has anything in common with Spielberg then you need to go and learn something about film-making. With this in mind (and the fact that you named Star Trek 'sci-fi film of the decade) I will remain sceptical.

      Alert a moderator

    • jolopity

      Jun 1st 2011, 22:21

      Aww now to be fair star Trek is awesome & could totally be the sci-fi film of its decade :) hands down!

      Alert a moderator

    • davidleach2000

      Jun 2nd 2011, 17:24

      I was excited to read your enthusiastic five star review until you went and gave Hangover 2 4 stars! Really, what were you thinking?

      Alert a moderator

    • craigy111

      Jun 7th 2011, 0:58

      I can't wait for super 8 to come out, i agree with others that waiting two months after its released in the US is just bad thinking, surely it would be more profitable to release it at the same time or at least a week apart. For me, all you have to say is that JJ is involved with a film and I will watch it, the man is fastly becoming a legend in film making, Cloverfield and Star Trek are simply awsome and if Super 8 is anywhere near as good as them then I can see this beating Transformers 3 at the box office, plus when you bring Speilberg into the mix you can bet any money its gonna turn golden.

      Alert a moderator

    • PJY88

      Jun 7th 2011, 14:11

      I think the distributors are a little uncertain about this. The other summer blockbusters are based on well established concepts and pretty much guarantee a return whereas this is new and untested. It looks great but will those outside the movie geek community go out and watch something that they nothing about? I really hope so but you never know. Can this compete against robots and a Victoria Secret model?

      Alert a moderator

    • ringdow

      Jun 13th 2011, 11:08

      I saw Super 8 today and went with high expectations and was somewhat let down. It was a really great movie but not worth the 5 stars review. It seemed to lack something that I can't put my finger on. Had I not seen all the pre release hype maybe it would have had the kick that I was expecting.

      Alert a moderator

    • ChrisWootton

      Jun 13th 2011, 17:21

      Why review it so early if we're not going to see it for 2 months... absolutely pointless and a little annoying.. it's like "ha ha, look at us we've seen it you haven't"... f*****g annoying, like that prick of a kid at school who just couldn't wait. Seem's the over-hype of both Abrams and this film is going to ruin it for me. Ringdow, I fear that that is exactly how I'm going to feel.

      Alert a moderator

    • OwlHenry

      Jun 16th 2011, 9:54

      1

      This film tries to be all Spielbergs late 70`s/early 80`s output all rolled into one,it even rips on The Explorer`s.It`s not so much a homage to Spielberg it`s more like watching someone suck him off.And I have to say what is J.J Abrams obssession with c**p looking monsters? It looks like a monster in another movie that he had a hand in......watch E.T instead.

      Alert a moderator

    • WreckedReviews

      Jun 21st 2011, 19:30

      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

      Alert a moderator

    • civai7

      Jun 22nd 2011, 14:37

      finally a review I agree with!! charming film, incredibly refreshing, brilliantly acted. watch it.

      Alert a moderator

    • baldeelox

      Jun 24th 2011, 9:10

      4

      davidleach2000, ringdow, ChrisWootton....you all said it!!! After wahing it it is NOT a 5 star flick and because my compadres back home have not seen it yet i cannot spolit it as to why it not 5 stars but ChrsWootton it does feel like the hype gets to some of these reviewers a little...i mean a private screening two months ahead of time and its a blockbuster must get to the blood but when all is said and done there was hardly any action scenes and not ONE monster battle as we would have thought...The mosnter you say was agood un??? really i could hardly bloody see it. The kids were cool but they aint the goonies and the rest feels like there was much missing from what could have been an absolute classic...good but not a watch again before it comes out on DVD type film...thats the film that gets 5 stars...so note to reviewers don't believe the hype and get caught up in it. Like what chris said lol... and hangover 2 4 stars????? WOWW not the first time i have seen this from Empire OR total film...I think Miami vice is one of the worst films I have ever seen yet empire gave it 4 stars and think total film 3 ...it was a 1 star film at best sort your lives out...

      Alert a moderator

    • etzioni

      Jul 27th 2011, 10:56

      3

      Amazing film, beautifully shot with child actors that can really act !! Balanced between a light-hearted comedy and drama - this film gripped me from start to end. Some people complained about the ending but I think they missed the entire point of it and what it symbolised. Look out for the hilarious ending credits - a lot of people walked off after 'The End' and had to watch it standing up. I will be recommending this to everyone.

      Alert a moderator

    • etzioni

      Jul 27th 2011, 10:58

      what is up with the scoring ? i rated this 5 stars !

      Alert a moderator

    • etzioni

      Jul 27th 2011, 10:59

      5

      :)

      Alert a moderator

    • Celludroid

      Aug 6th 2011, 15:55

      1

      An Immensely enjoyable and carefully crafted, if slightly unbalanced, sci-fi mystery. Ok so it doesn’t quite rank among the best, but it’s a great reminder of what Hollywood used to prescribe with such unerring accuracy. Check out the full review here http://bit.ly/pqM19J

      Alert a moderator

    • Celludroid

      Aug 6th 2011, 15:58

      4

      Correction, that was supposed to be four stars, woops...

      Alert a moderator

    • joeymac

      Aug 7th 2011, 23:05

      3

      The child acting is superb and the visuals are great but it just didn't have enough brains to keep me excited. Felt like a bit of an anticlimax, even though it's good, popcorn fodder.

      Alert a moderator

    • charlyJenkins

      Aug 14th 2011, 0:30

      1

      Super 8 has been credited that at above all, at least it is not a reboot or sequel. Isn’t it? I went to see Rise of the plant of the apes, and despite being a reboot, is actually more of an original movie than this one. This is Cloverfield set in a small town instead of New York, and the main characters are in their early teens and not early twenties. It could have been called Cloverfield 2 for what it is worth. And its rubbish. The story could be a good one, the kids can act and I’d agree it starts well enough (even though the dynamic of the kids friendships is instantly worrying because of its familiarity). But the basis of the story makes no sense, some very dramatic and 'world news' notable events take place and nobody batters an eye lid or changes their daily plans of activities or leaves town for outside assistance (all the town car engines and electronically devices have gone, all the towns dogs ran away on the same day, black outs, major rail crash and loads of people have gone missing). Why are the main characters kids, doesn’t make any sense, It’s cheesy and corny like the Goonies, but this is too scary a film for young children to watch. It would have been better to see the dynamic of an older group of friends in the town than kids. Because it’s kids it introduces serious problems with the story. They are all nearly killed very traumatically at the very beginning (final destination style) and yet all agree to go home and tell no one in fear of getting into trouble. I'm annoyed with the film from this very premise as none of them seem bothered by this event. Then whilst all these horrible things are happening and people are going missing (including one of their dads), they carry on making their film each day as if it was business as usual, what kind of a crazy town is this where kids recover from serious trauma so easily. Then there’s the romantic development between the main character and his love interest, he’s about 12 and she’s old enough to drive (though doesn’t have her licence yet), its a very unlikely and awkward romance. And the two of them are overly emotional and poignant when it doesn’t make sense to be or that you would expect kids of this age to be, it seems out of place. True heroism in the face of adversity, fine with pirate ships and cute bicycle basket aliens, not so believable when its a monster akin to Cloverfield, they would be petrified, they are too young to take such roles in the story. The main kid and his dad, poor effort to build audience empathy for their relationship. I felt more empathy for the Dad of the vomiting child in The Sixth Sense, (and he only had a couple of scenes in his film to manage that), than i did for the father in this film even after the whole movie. And why the 80’s, I didn’t even know it was the 80’s in the film to begin with, I don’t know who did set design and costume, but even when the kid in the petrol shop is listening to Blondie, i genuinely though he just trying to be pastiche. It was only when the sheriff makes the ubiquitous comment ‘you kids these days and your modern walkmans, what ever next’, that i realised that it was set in the 80’s. It doesn’t need to be realistic, its a film, but it does need to be convincing and make sense and if people are to gain any connection with the characters, they have to at least act in some way proportionately to the events that have happened. Its obvious, predictable (long quiet pause...monster jumps out...long quiet pause....monster jumps out....long quiet pause....you guessed it, monster jumps out), melodramatic and offers nothing new, in fact a little insulting to an adult audience. And if I have to watch another film where characters should be running for their lives and instead take time out and practically stop the film to fit in a romantic or sentimental moment I’m gonna start throwing things at the screen. Monsters don’t wait for people to finish their lines, Monsters eat people who stop for a chat. Super 8? super c**p indeed.

      Alert a moderator

    • mattysamps

      Aug 15th 2011, 21:23

      1

      Everything Charly said..glad I've seen it, but disappointed

      Alert a moderator