Super 8

Although Super 8 feels like a throwback to 80s sci-fi films, it is thoroughly nostalgic of what summer movies were like.

Set during the summer break of 1979, teenagers Joe, Charles, Cary, Preston, Martin and Alice go about producing a low budget zombie movie using Charles’ hand held Super 8 motion camera. Just before wrapping up, they witness a horrific train crash, caused by derailment by head-on collision with a pick-up truck. Having barely survived the crash, the children’s biology teacher instructs them never to recount what they just saw for their own safety and the safety of their parents. Soon enough, the crash site is cordoned off by the US Air Force, plunging the small town into mystery and peril with unexplained disappearances of household metals and even some town folk.

Written, produced and directed by J. J. Abrams with Spielberg signing on as co-producer, this film is more than just a tribute to sci-fi mysteries of the 1980s. True, there will always be negative criticism, as the film’s plot will be compared to E.T The Extraterrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Cloverfield. But with Super 8 produced by Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, there is absolutely no question of plagiarism on Abrams part. How can there be one, when the studio executive is none other than Spielberg himself? Unwarranted negative criticism aside, this film is well made, from casting and acting to special effects and production values. Although Abrams has well placed humour, his general feel of the plot centres on the tragedy of loosing a loved one. For good measure, he also throws in moral messages associated with the sense of belonging and acceptance. Again, this juncture will be compared to Spielberg’s ET trying to fit in amongst humans. As the narrative revolves around the lives of teenage children, casting is near perfect with captivating portrayals from Joe Lamb and Elle Fanning as Joe and Alice. This could well be Elle’s claim to fame, rather than living of her sister’s (Dakota) repute as a child star. Some unexpected yet amusing moments are well rendered by Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee and Zach Mills. With limited screen time, but worthy of screen presence, Kyle Chandler as Joe’s grieving father and the town sheriff, and Ron Eldard as Alice’s alcoholic father standout among the adult cast.

As a child of the 1980s, I can relate to this film with boyish nostalgia. Thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with aliens or monsters in the flesh. However, Abrams does an excellent job in capturing the mindset of a teenager. From that perspective, there is adventure, fantasy, puppy love, heart break and even terror. Filming is clearly digital and takes you back to an era when low lit scenes were peppered with heavy grain, also called ‘noise’ by photographers. Back then, cinematographers had to use special films for low lit scenes. The unavoidable disadvantage was the noise level. Here, this works in Abrams’ favour and is obviously intentional in creating the look and feel of a bygone era in film making. Another aspect Abrams gets right was resisting the temptation to bring this out in 3D. While there are moments during the film that could have the audience bobbing and weaving, the intended atmosphere would have been lost to a plastic gimmick. Where Abrams excels as the film’s director, is in placing special effects in the background. He gives a lot of focus to character development while heightening the mystery of ‘something dangerous lurking in the background’. As such, we never get a full glimpse of what terrorizes the small town of Lillian (Ohio). When we do get to see it, the film is in the final act. This here is my only gripe, especially when there is evidently so much work put into drawing in the audience. Maybe it is just me, but if the film spans 112 minutes, where is the harm in adding another 15 minutes to avoid the risk of an abrupt ending? Having said that, if you are the type of person to go for first impressions, rather than last impressions, then Super 8 is a great experience with nostalgia to boot.

With a PG-13 rating (PG-15 in the UAE), this is a film for the entire family. So load up the SUV and get to the nearest cinema. Leave the dog at home.

Rating: ★★★½☆


About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.