Super 8 (2011) – movie review

Share now:

Movie review by EDF

Starring: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Jessica Tuck

Director: J J Abrams

On paper, a lot of movies that Hollywood produces may sound great; sometimes they are, sometimes they are not. Then you get the ones that under the weight of expectation sound like a dream project but fail to deliver. So what does that piece of paper tell us? On the one hand, you have Steven Spielberg producing a tale that seems to use elements from some of his best known movies. On the other hand, you have J.J. Abrams who is coming off the success of the STAR TREK reboot and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3. With SUPER 8, he writes and directs this tale set in small town America where the unusual happens and there is no doubt who the heroes will be.

Set in 1979, the story begins with the funeral of Joe Lamb’s mother, who died in a factory accident while covering for another work colleague. That work colleague, Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard) turns up at the funeral where Joe’s father, Deputy Sherriff Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) arrests Louis. Four months later, the father son relationship between Jackson and Joe is frosty to the point that Jackson wants to send Joe away to summer camp. Instead, Joe wants to hang around with his friends, who are filming a horror movie to submit to a local film competition. Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the sort or writer and director who is not just interested in special effects, regardless how many times Martin (Gabriel Basso) wants to blow up things. Charles prefers that his characters portray real emotions, with his sudden love story rewrites and new lines of dialogue.

For the love story, Charles finds a local girl to act in the movie. When Alice Denard (Elle Fanning) picks up the rest of the crew, they drive to an empty train platform to shoot the scenes. From the distance, a train unexpectedly roars towards them. Seeing this as a way to make the movie look more expensive, Charles decides to shoot the scene with a shot of the train going past them in the background. As it does so, Joe looks round to see that a pickup truck has gone on to the rail track and is heading straight for a head on collision with the speeding train. The train jumps off tracks, with the kids running in all directions trying to escape all the crashing and exploding carriages. Moments later they see the Air Force approaching towards the scene of the accident and the kids pack up their equipment and leave. What they do not realise is that they have captured on film what was being transported on the train.

There is no doubt that as the movie progresses; you start to make comparisons to other movies that have involved Spielberg in one form or another. Movies such as THE GOONIES, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, E.T., JAWS and even WAR OF THE WORLDS are to be found throughout. It is almost like a greatest hits of Spielberg movies that sometimes works well and other times have you shaking your head at the huge plot holes. What works extremely well for this movie is the cast of young actors who are mostly unknown to audiences. They understand their characters so well that you believe that they are all childhood friends. Up to the point of the train crash, you are enjoying their story but once the crash happens, so does the movie. We witness the mother of all train crashes as CGI train carriages fly through the air like they were CGI train carriages, which goes on for far too long, to the point you begin to wonder how long this train actually is.

Even though Abrams script tries to recapture the old feel of those 80’s movies that both adults and kids could enjoy, the predictable and sometimes far fetched script lets it down. Even some of the pop culture references mentioned, provides a fair argument that the movie should have been set in 1980 not 1979, so try to spot those mistakes. Some of the character relationships end up where you would expect them. This comes from the fact that we have seen this all before but done more convincingly in other movies. Even the big reveal is slow but the tension just about holds your attention. Regardless of that and some great set pieces, the last few minutes of the movie will leave you disappointed, feeling like one big cop out. It is a shame because this is an enjoyable romp made more entertaining by the young actors’ engaging performances more than the older actor’s wooden efforts. The proof of this is to wait for the end credits and you will experience what SUPER 8 should have really been like.

4 out of 6 stars