When Hollywood teams up the maker of an intensely relational TV phenomenon (“Lost,” by producer J.J. Abrams) and fabulously successful alien encounters (“E.T.” and “Men in Black,” among others, by producer Steven Spielberg), the result should be movie magic, right?
Well … almost.
The new film by Abrams (director) and Spielberg (producer) called “Super 8” is a delightful, enjoyable film that features outstanding acting from a young cast, smart and witty dialogue, messages of forgiveness and reconciliation and hope and … a story about aliens.
Unfortunately, the story itself, despite a great premise, seems just a bit too thin to support the rich and dynamic characters these kids pull off. In a bit of a schizophrenic twist, when the movie switches gears from a movie about the kids to a movie about an alien, it loses a lot of its charm and devolves into a hokey sort of ending.
So, the next Oscar-winning “E.T.” it’s not. But that doesn’t mean “Super 8” isn’t worth dropping eight – dollars, that is – on a ticket to your local theater.
The story takes place in a steel-mill town of 1979, when a few, nerdy young friends use Super 8 film to fulfill their dreams of making movies. And when the film’s young director is able to convince the local heartthrob (played startlingly well by Elle Fanning) to take a role in their creation, the boys are elated.
But while filming a scene at the train station, a passing train derails, crashing its contents all over the countryside.
Unbeknownst to the fleeing filmmakers, their camera – which was left behind in the hubbub – captures a U.S. military freight car as its cargo, in the form of a fearsome alien, is released into the wild.
Many of the scenes, particularly before the alien takes out his anger on his former captors, are filled with nostalgic, yet realistic reminiscences of the early childhood years – from first crushes to model trains to sneaking the keys to dad’s car. The clever writing behind the banter these kids share is the movie’s greatest glory and makes it worth a movie ticket … or at least a rental.
For the two main actors in “Super 8,” however, there is another, deeper storyline. Protagonist Joe’s mother was killed in an industrial accident, and the object of his affections, Alice, is daughter to the man blamed for the death. It creates a Romeo-and-Juliet tension between the teens, because their fathers are livid with one another.
Again, the actress Elle Fanning and debut actor Joel Courtney are enchanting to watch as they navigate both the pain and the still innocent flame of budding romance. Haunted by this shared link of grief, Joe and Alice share a few touching and powerful scenes.
As the movie moves forward, however, the funny and fond moments give way to battle scenes, harrowing adventures and monster-movie schlock. The final scenes seem to forget that this is a film about the kids, not about the alien, and the magic so expertly stirred up by Abrams gets lost in his attempt to make a Spielberg scene.
Still, the key theme of the movie is found in what the children and the alien share: a loss, an injustice, a pain that threatens to make them as bitter and angry as the teens’ fathers.
Somewhere along the line, however, (and here’s another area where the movie unfortunately falls short) Joe realizes that anger and resentment over wrongs are self-destructive and that forgiveness is the first step to healing.
“Bad things happen,” Joe tells the alien in a life-and-death confrontation, “but you can still live. You can still live.”
It’s a good moral of the story. It’s a great kid and some great actors telling it. And though it’s not as “super” as it could have been, “Super 8” is a fun and uplifting film.
- The morally or parentally conscientious should beware, “Super 8” is filled with an excessive amount of profanity. My favorite content-warning site counts over 80 profanities and obscenities, mostly coming from the juvenile bravado of a few characters who cuss incessantly just to feel macho. While it’s almost cute at first, it soon wears thin, and the otherwise outstanding writing is unnecessarily bogged down by potty-mouthed kids that could use a good bar of soap to the mouth (if they had any parenting at all, which this crew is clearly sorely lacking).
- The film’s sexual content is mild, limited to one character’s “hot” sister, who shows off her midriff in a pair of revealing outfits and the somewhat suggestive lyrics of the song “My Sharona.”
- The film has some moments of extreme violence, including but not limited to the alien grabbing people, killing and tearing through a bus. There’s an extended scene where tanks and rocket launchers are firing wildly about the countryside. A man is killed by lethal injection. The film has some gore as well, including a bloodied victim of a car accident, and the film the kids are shooting is a “zombie” flick, which includes some obviously fake but still gruesome blood and stage-makeup scenes.
- Outside of profanities, the film has very little religious or occult content. The kids are shooting a “zombie” film, and the alien is able to make “psychic” connections with people, but these themes are not deeply explored. One character does say, “He’s in me as I’m in him,” a statement similar to Jesus words in John 14:11, but it refers only to the alien’s “psychic” connection and is quickly discarded by the script.