Some of the best memories of my childhood involve running around with a digital camera, making lame home movies that we later stitched together in Windows Movie Maker. I also grew up watching some of the best movies to come out of Hollywood – Spielbergian classics along the lines of Indiana Jones, E.T., Jaws, and a multitude of others. Those are the kinds of films that fire up a kid’s imagination, evoking a sense of fantasy and wonder.
“Super 8” is that type of movie, made for a new generation.
The film follows Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a young teenager mourning the recent death of his mother in a steel mill accident. His hard-driving best friend, Charles, is planning to enter a film festival with a homemade zombie movie. Toting their old “Super 8” video camera, and accompanied by pretty classmate Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), Charles and the gang sneak out one night to an old train station. Just as they’re shooting a climactic scene, disaster strikes: an oncoming train derails after a head-on collision with a mysterious truck. The truck’s driver – barely clinging to consciousness – gives them a stern warning: if they speak of what they have seen, they and their parents will die.
Shortly thereafter, the town is swarmed by Air Force personnel under the command of ruthless Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich). It soon becomes clear that something inhuman is prowling the town…something that may or may not have escaped from the mysterious train. As the search for the strange creature intensifies, Joe, Charles, Alice, and their companions are thrown headlong into a crisis situation.
If this was the entirety of “Super 8,” there wouldn’t be much to differentiate it from any of the other sci-fi/horror films crowding cinemas. But “Super 8” manages to be an action movie with a heart. The relationship between Joe and his father develops movingly and realistically as the story progresses, as do the bonds of friendship between the kids themselves. Refreshingly, the kids act exactly as one might expect – there’s the bossy kid, the quiet one, the nerd, the pyromaniac, etc. For me, at least, it evoked a sense of real nostalgia…a reminder of a time before Facebook and the Internet age.
In keeping with its origins (as a homage to the likes of “E.T.”), “Super 8” celebrates traditional values. The value of family is celebrated in a realistic way that never feels saccharine. Kids risk their own lives to help one another and do the right thing, even in the face of overwhelming adversity. There’s no “agenda” underlying this film…but rather a celebration of things that are genuinely true and good.
Outstanding production values serve to strengthen an already compelling story. The actors’ performances are remarkably strong, and the few CGI effects never overwhelm the human story. The sound design deserves a special mention here – it’s some of the best I’ve ever heard in any movie. This fills otherwise “mundane” scenes with dramatic intensity, maintaining the film’s breakneck pace.
The biggest objectionable-content concern in “Super 8” is profanity (including an f-word) – much of it used by the kids. This, unfortunately, will likely prevent the film from becoming an instant all-ages success. It’s also worth noting that this is an extremely intense movie – some of the scenes with the monster are jarring, even for relatively hardened moviegoers. (And that’s saying nothing of the explosive, hyper-kinetic train derailment scene.) At the very least, it’s not a film for anyone under 10 or 11.
I’m intentionally leaving vague many of the details regarding this film. This is a movie that has to be seen for oneself to be truly appreciated…and no brief review can do it full justice. Suffice it to say that “Super 8” is a throwback to an earlier, better era of moviemaking. Not everything needs to be “gritty” and “dark” to be outstanding…and even though there are a few content concerns, most viewers will find it an exhilarating and uplifting summer adventure. As I was leaving the theater, I heard a little boy shout excitedly to his friend, “This movie ROCKS, dude!”
Yup, pretty much.
A future classic of the sci-fi adventure genre, and one of the best movies I’ve seen in theaters this year. Highly recommended.
Normalized Score: 7.9