Summer tine at the box office is anything but boring. I think my earliest memories of making the movie theater my home was probably in my middle school years. Growing up during this period was the toughest and I found more comfort in watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerers’ Stone and Shrek with a bucket of popcorn then trying to make friends in my awkward early teenage years. I would have my mom drive me to the theater every weekend (it was too far from where I lived) and I would sit back and enjoy myself in a air conditioned darken room. I did eventually find some good friends that shared my interests, but I think from those days on, my fate was sealed with film.
Maybe I was born a generation too early. I loved the movies I saw, but I understood and marveled at a lot of the films of the seventies and eighties. I probably would have loved to been part of the crowd that waited hours in line to see Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Goonies. I see why a lot o people love to get off with these nostalgic films. So what better way to celebrate the early Spielberg years and summer blockbusters with Super 8.
Taking a trip to the nostalgic-infused 1979, fourteen year-old Joe Lamb (played by Joel Courtney) is unpopular with other kids and his own father Jack Lamb (played by Kyle Chandler). They are both mourning the loss of his mother who died in a tragic factory accident. Joe has found security in his own world of John Carpenter, George A. Romero and home movie making. His group of friends, including Charles Kaznyk, and he have decided to make a low budget zombie thriller for an international film competition. They enlist the help of a girl Alice Dainard (played by Elle Fanning) and go off one night to film a major scene.
The simple shoot at the train station becomes a real life blockbuster when a truck crashes head on, sending each boxcar flying into the air, making the kids run for their lives. They discover some strange cubes and are told by the truck driver to forget what they saw. In the passing days as they try and finish their movie, they notice strange things happening; dogs go missing and many electronics are stolen. As the kids find out that the cubes may be part of something extraterrestrial, people start to go missing that the footage caught on the kids’ camera may be the only thing that can help them.
Back in 2011, Super 8 was one of the most hyped films of the summer. Every newspaper and TV station kept discussing that this would be a giant smash. My friends and I went on about how this would mark a return to the films of yester years. The film was released, everyone liked it…but no one seems to talk about it any more. Was it the movie everyone thought they were going to get? In a way, yes. Do I think it holds up? Also in a way, yes.
I went to see Super 8 three times and each view was just as spectacular as the last. I still think that the train crash sequence was one of the coolest things that I saw that year. But I’ll admit that after that scene, it does start to loose a little steam. The train crash sequence was the best action scene and the movie probably pulled it’s best trick out of the hat too soon. The magic of the earlier films was that the actions scenes were always better then the last. I think that while director J.J. Abrams did a great job crafting a tribute to the early movies of Stephen Spielberg, I think he may have relied on that too much. Rather then taking focus on it’s own, it relies on the older crowds to look at the movie and think, “Movies like E.T. were just like this”. It really risks alienating it’s audience, but carefully doesn’t step over that boundary
What saves it aren’t the rest of the special effects, but rather the relationship between the characters. The movie goes into a lot of detail about the many characters and their conflicts. Joe letting go of his mother, Joe and reconnecting with his dad, his dad and his conflict with the arriving military, Joe and his best friend, and especially Joe and Alice. The interaction between the characters is so good, that it works against the special effects. Super 8 hit all the cylinders on what made the older Spielberg films work. It has a lot of heart into it (though it’s close to becoming overblown Frank Capra Hallmark card territory) and I liked it.
I’ll give it four and a half super 8 cameras out of five. I still think this makes for a fun summer night movie. All you need is some popcorn and an old suspension of disbelief. Super 8 is a good way to teach others about the films of the seventies and eighties before popping some into the DVD player.