Review: “Super 8″ is “E.T.” for a new generation

July 11th, 2011 at 8:32 am by under Entertainment

 ”Super 8″‘s wonder and adventure make it the “E.T.” for a new generation… while edgier and a little darker, its the fun, very well made summer movie you’ve been looking for.

While it may be too intense for kids under 12, its certainly a movie that almost the entire family can enjoy.

(Sorry about the delay in writing this review that I started on 6/10/11… don’t mistake the delay as an issue with the movie, the review just got buried under a lot of other work)

“Super 8” poster courtesy Paramount


(My spoiler-free review)

This is one of those summer movies that should be seen on the big screen with theater surround sound…. and while the IMAX looked great, its not essential to experiencing this movie… but it does add to the experience.

“Super 8″ can really resonate with summer movie goers with the whimsical middle school days full of adventure and promise… but also heartbreak, tragedy, and issues that put kids on the road to becoming young adults.

J.J. Abrams channels some familiar Spielbergian themes: a boy struggling to cope with life in a single parent home in a small town, father-son issues, communication difficulties, adventure, something extra-terrestrial, government agents investigating/covering up, and kids knowing more than adults… just to name a few.

In addition to the obvious correlations to “E.T.” there’s also elements of “Goonies”, “Stand by Me”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “War of the Worlds”, and a half-dozen other coming-of-age adventures and sci-fi movies.

But this movie can stand alone… thanks to its very strong cast, of mostly young actors that delivers.  Lead by Joel Courtney as “Joe”… a boy struggling with loss, a growing love, and the mysterious events in his town.  Elle Fanning is a young actress with talents well beyond her years as ”Alice”, the girl/potential love interest of the boys making the movie.  The young filmmakers/friends of Joe and Alice are very well cast with Riley Griffiths as the director, Ryan Lee as actor/effects guy, and Gabriel Basso as the lead actor.

There are strong performances from the adults too…. Kyle Chandler is great as Joe’s widowed father, Ron Eldard is perfect as Alice’s troubled father, Glynn Turman is perfectly mysterious/wise as the scientist Dr. Woodward, while Noah Emmerich is solid as the by-the-book military man Colonel Nelec.

Stick around for the credits, because the filmmakers actually show the movie within the movie that the kids are making called “The Case” – its a zombie movie intended for an area film festival on a Super8 camera.  Much like “Super 8″ is an homage to many of Spielberg’s movies, “The Case” is an homage to George Romero’s classic zombie movies (“Night of the Living Dead” (1968), “Dawn of the Dead” (1978)).

The super 8 camera isn’t just what puts this young film-making crew in position to see the train crash that sets in motion a series of mysterious events around town – the camera is also used for flashbacks with Joe and his mom on old super 8 home video.

That train wreck scene is ridiculous… as it should be on the big screen – a montage of explosions, train wreckage, and loud sound effects – in all its glory, its a good twisted mess that puts you right in the middle of it all.

“Super 8″ is soo much more than just about what is in the train wreck… its about relationships, growing up, and working together.

The The movie is set in 1979 Lilian, Ohio… we get small town America plus, signs of the times, like a walkman, photo processing, songs like “My Sharona” and “Heart of Glass” just to name a few.  Plus, the kids keep using the term “mint” – like someone would say “that’s cool” or “that’s money”, but they say “that’s mint”.   They also refer to things as ”bogus”.   Its not just popular culture things like technology, music, and slang, there’s also TV reports and the wardrobe that keep us thinking this is the late 1970′s.

As much as this movie is about the people, its about this strange mystery… the unexplained damage, missing dogs, power lines … Abrams keeps adding mystery as it goes along… there’s something clearly mysterious going on in this town, but its something that the government has clearly known about, but wants to keep a secret.

There are a lot of different themes going on in addition to the coming-of-age and sci-fi mystery…. but just like in “E.T.” some treat the mystery with aggression like they would with a monster, while others believe there should be compassion and an effort of understanding.

This movie is hard not to like, woven in all of this are real emotions, effective storytelling, and elements of comedy to break up the serious/tense moments.

Overall, its a very strong production from the cinematography, to the effects, the sound, the costumes, and beyond.

Unfortunately this movie is not without some minor problems – mostly in the last 30 minutes of the movie:
1 – some things are a bit over-the-top and a little hollywood-ized – there’s some contrived emotion for the audience that wasn’t necessary… it was already there, they tried to make it more touchy-feeling, more triumphant/happy.

2 – waiting to show the mystery was a good move – but they should have stuck with that premise and showed less – it makes it more suspenseful and more powerful… when we see too much of the mystery… the movie immediately goes from suspenseful sci-fi mystery to just another sci-fi adventure with a … (well, I don’t want to spoil it, even though you probably know what’s in that train).


I give it 8.5 out of 10 … the movie is really good, possibly the best movie of the summer of 2011, but the minor issues mentioned above keep it from being “great”.

Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Ron Eldard in "Super 8" - photo courtesy Paramount

 “Super 8”

(2011) (rated: PG-13)
(1 hr, 52 min)

Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee, Glynn Turman, Amanda Michalka, Richard T. Jones, Zach Mills, David Gallagher, Brett Rice, Jessica Tuck, Joel McKinnon Miller

Director/Writer: J.J. Abrams ["Star Trek" (2009), "Lost"]

Genre: Sci-Fi/Drama/Action/Adventure

The Plot: After witnessing a mysterious train crash, a group of friends in the summer of 1979 begin noticing strange happenings going around in their small town (Lilian, Ohio), and begin to investigate into the creepy phenomenon.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

“Super 8” poster and photo courtesy Paramount

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