“Super 8” was directed by J.J. Abrams, the man behind the recent “Star Trek” revival, and creator of such television shows as “Alias” and “Lost.” Abrams grew up watching such Spielberg classics as “E.T.,” “Jaws,” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “Super 8” is his attempt to replicate those films and bring back some of their magic to the big screen.
Let’s first start with what’s good about the movie, which are the performances. The movie is perfectly cast with some great young actors, particularly the lead characters of Joe and Alice, played by Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning. Joe recently lost his mother in a factory accident, and Alice is a sympathetic new friend. They are perfect as two young kids who are both dealing with difficult family situations.
Joe and his friends are in the process of making a zombie movie for a local film contest, and they recruit Alice to play the main character’s wife. The rest of the kids are also great, and provide many of the funniest moments in the film. The town is populated with very likable, real characters, and I found myself thinking that this would be a fun place to grow up. The emotional moments between the main character, Joe, and his father are very well done, as are some of the moments between Joe and Alice.
A train accident nearby occurs while the kids are shooting one of the key moments in the film, and there are some mysterious circumstances surrounding it. Something aboard the train could be potentially dangerous, and soon the town is overrun by military personnel as the town is kept in the dark about what really happened. The kids were lucky enough to capture some of the wreck on film.
“Super 8” is shrouded in secrecy, so I won’t give any more details on the plot. I will say that one of the problems with the movie is that it tries so hard to replicate the classic Spielberg movies that it fails to develop its own personality. It tries to be too many things, and ultimately, fails in some key areas. The movie ends up being too much like “E.T.,” but without the heart. While I did like the characters and was rooting for them, I didn’t have the same sympathy for them that I probably should have, and the end of the movie felt kind of hollow.
While Spielberg flouted his alien throughout “E.T.,” we don’t know who or what the monster/alien is “Super 8” is all about until the movie’s almost over. We care about the kids, their relationships and well-being, but we’re pretty certain that everything’s going to work out fine for them in the end.
Ultimately, “Super 8” is a watchable, fun movie that has some very nice moments, but fails to reach the emotional heights of the movies it’s trying to replicate. Perhaps if it had more of its own ideas, and relied less on throwbacks to older movies, it would have been more touching. Maybe “Super 8” is just proof that you can’t move backward in history, and in order to keep an audience engaged and entertained, you have to show them something new, or at least do something in a different way. “Super 8” is a nice homage, but that’s about it. The tragedy is that it could have been so much more.