Film Review: Super 8

Super 8 is a collaboration between two geniuses, JJ Abrams (Star Trek, Alias), who wrote and directed the film, and Steven Spielberg (ET) who produced it. Needless to say, on the basis of these names alone, a lot of movie buffs would willingly shell out the money for the movie tickets. And they would not be sorry.

From the trailer alone, the movie already had me hooked. After I first saw it, I was already trying to figure out what was inside the train’s cargo. It took me months to finally learn what it was but it was well worth the wait.

The story revolves around a bunch of kids sneaking out late at night to shoot a movie using a Super 8 camera and witnessing a mysterious train accident. As it turns out, the accident was a deliberate attempt by Dr. Woodward, their Biology teacher,  to free something that is part of the cargo. Afraid of getting in trouble and endangering their families, Joe, the deputy’s son and audio/make up guy; Charles, the director; Cary, their special effects guy; Preston, their cameraman; Martin, the actor, and Alice, the girl who both Joe and Charles like — vow to keep their mouths shut about what they knew. But then, weird things started happening. Dogs from towns surrounding the perimeter of the crash started disappearing, so did appliances, car engines and countless other suspicious articles. Nobody really seemed to know what was going on, except for the military, who is  clearing the wreckage with meticulous care, trying to find something that they have deemed classified, and Dr. Woodward, who they later discover was a former government scientist.

Pretty soon, the town is in a panic and the deputies, led by Joe’s dad Jack, grow suspicious of the military’s secrecy. With the town’s sheriff nowhere to be found, Jack tries to put the pieces together on his own, not knowing that the kids hold the key to the mystery.

The film actually reminded me of an Amazing Stories episode,which incidentally was also created by Steven Spielberg. The scoring was both dramatic and whimsical,  seeming to promise the audience a reveal beyond their wildest imagination. And while they are both excited and scared by the mysterious monster hidden in the darkness, Abrams  tells us the stories of  these kids – from the trivial to the vital, struggling with their self image (Charles being fat),  issues aboute growing up, dealing with loss (Joe’s mom died in an accident at the steel mill four months prior to the train accident), domestic disturbance (Alice’s dad is an inverterate drunk), falling in love and trying prove that they are not losers.

While I felt that the beginning part was a bit slow moving, which was the only flaw I could really say about the film, I would have to commend the filmmakers for taking the time to lay the groundwork for a strong the emotional connection between the lead actors and the audience. Newcomer Joel Courtney who played Joe could have fooled me. His acting was so natural that he could have been doing it for years. Joe succeeded in striking the perfect balance between charming and sympathetic, and smart — let’s not forget that, a hard feat to accomplish on his first big movie. Audiences are bound to fall in love with this boy. It made me wonder why they didn’t just cast this kid as Owen in Let Me In instead of Kodi Smith Mcphee, whose mere presence in the screen grates on my nerves. Anyway, Elle Fanning as Alice was also great in this movie as a troubled teen, trying to rebel against her father but at the same time, unable to let go of him because he loves him. Their inner conflicts are so clearly written in their faces, and they play adolescent versions of Romeo and Juliet as well as any stage veteran. The supporting cast also deserves much credit for bringing the story to life and putting up a solid performance.

The military, as per usual is portrayed as the villain of the piece, especially this officer named Nelec, who is the cause of the creature’s imprisonment and animosity towards humans in general. He is not overly annoying, like most movie generals but is rather the type of character that you would want to crush on the heel of your boot because os his stubbornness and high handedness.

What I really loved about the film was that it was able to incorporate a family drama, with a coming of age story in a Sci-Fi fantasy/adventure. The way that the story was unveiled gradually by piecing together different pieces of the puzzle that each character had, much like the creature’s ship was brilliant.

I must admit that I have a certain partiality for kids in movies. I liked the fact that kids are empowered and  able to do anything they set their mind to. I like the fact that their insight and innocence are the things that save the town from the wrath of the creature and I love how Joe’s dialogue towards the end apply both to him and the creature, and how he had to let go of the most important reminder of his mother in order for the creature to achieve his freedom. The film didn’t lack for witty dialogue , even in the direst situations, the kids had something funny to say, which most films forget in wanting to prove that they are serious about their big budget movie. But kids say the darndest things and this film didn’t forget that.

Super 8, for me, was a cross between Race to Witch Mountain and District 9 — it was not quite at the level of ET, but it was a masterpiece of a movie in its own right. It was well thought out and well executed, the characters each had their own flaws but it only serves to emphasize their vulnerability and endears them closer to the viewers. But most of all, it is a film that managed to inspire the kid in me to think of possibilities, and one of it is wanting to shoot my own short film using a Super 8 myself.