Super 8 has been described as a movie for adults who feel like kids and kids who think like adults. The film treats the young actors with a tenderness and respect that we all hoped for at one point when we were “too young to understand”. The setting is a small, family-friendly Ohio town in 1979 (Spielberg produced the film and his fingerprint is all over it). Likable middle school kids are making a zombie movie when during the shooting of a night scene, they witness the derailment of a speeding train. Train cars explode all around them as they run for their lives, not realising the significance of the cargo and how their sleepy town is about to de turned upside down. This scene (of the crash) was surprisingly, one of the longest, most impressive, and in-your-face explosion scenes I have ever seen. It probably helped that I was watching it in a huge theatre with the volume turned to max, but still.
The spirit of Super 8 essentially lies in its sincere portrayal of that transitional stage where kids creative impulses and imaginations run wild. These earnest young heroes, led brilliantly by zombie makeup artist/ special effects wiz Joe (played by Joel Courtney), are not the popular guys in their class obviously. These are the kids racing across town on their bikes! (BIKES!) They’re the ones who will save the day by being open to their imaginations! These kids must fend for themselves and save their town in the process! God knows the distracted, small-minded adults won’t save the day! The will appeal to the heart in the alien/ monster/ arachnid/ ‘thing’ among them! The ‘thing’ won’t kill them! They’re kids! Then once the threat is gone, their parents will open up to their virtues and life will resume as normal! Hooray!
Elle Fanning puts in a wonderful performance as Alice- the cute girl that all the boys are trying to woo. The Fanning sisters are pretty great; their mix of innocence, wonder, maturity and grace is a joy to watch. In the scene, right before the train crash where Fanning’s character goes into ‘acting’ mode for the boys’ film (meta), you see her turn it on and reveal how great an actress she really is. I also loved the group’s leader and director-extraordinaire Charles (Riley Griffiths), especially his enthusiastic exclamations of “That was mint!” and “Production value!”
Director JJ Abrams has described Super 8 as a love letter to the super 8 ‘monsters and chases’ stuff he made as a boy, which were influenced by the Indiana Jones/ Close Encounters sagas of Spielberg, who himself made these 8mm films stuff as a boy. Even the composer Michael Giacchino (whose brilliant score also deeply seeps this film in nostalgia) has talked about how all he did growing up was make super 8 films. My boyfriend, who I saw the film with, absolutely loved it- he too was making movies in school with a small group of friends. He was the ‘Charles’ of the group- the super driven, ambitious (I won’t say ‘control freak’) director searching for locations and production value and the perfect shot. This movie is made for people like him.
Near the end, you feel a race towards the finale (so what were those little cubes for?) which is unsatisfying. After it’s all wrapped up though, it’s worth hanging around for the closing credits, as we get to watch the final version of the Super 8 movie they were making. Overall, Super 8 is a fun movie, which evokes plenty of warm, fuzzy feelings. It feels like one of those movies you grew up watching on VHS, but it’s none of them, it is it’s own thing.