By Caitlyn Collins | June 9, 2011
Director: J. J. Abrams
Writer: J. J. Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Glynn Turman, Noah Emmerich
Like any decent summer blockbuster, Super 8 is a cornucopia of film clichés – death, summer romance, having almost everything in sight blown to bits, compassion toward alien beings out to rebuild spaceships, and a heavy dose of cheesy dialogue. While I’m perfectly happy to have seen this film, it’s not going to make any 10 ten lists for me.
Super 8, written and directed by J.J. Abrams, is set during the summer of 1979. Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is the son of the Deputy Sheriff of Lillian, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler). Both are suffering from the recent loss of Joe’s mother whose wake opens the film. Joe is a creative kid and spends much of his time building models, painting figures and reading up on movie monster makeup. Deputy Sheriff Lamb has never had to be a father according to the mother of Joe’s best friend, Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths). Jackson urges his son to attend a six-week summer baseball camp claiming it’s what they both need. Joe, however, is in the midst of a film shoot with director Charles, explosives obsessed Cary (Ryan Lee) and Martin (Gabriel Basso) who cannot keep his food down anytime he’s upset. Charles also recruits the lovely Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) to join the cast and crew, who causes Joe’s heart to go atwitter. He feels a love interest will make the movie more credible, plus she’s willing to steal her dad’s car and drive.
As they set the scene, a train can be heard in the distance and they decide to shoot while the train is passing. Only the train doesn’t pass, it collides into a white pick-up truck, derails and explodes all over the place. Somehow not only does everyone survive, but there isn’t a scratch on Alice’s father, Louis Dainard’s (Ron Eldard), car. The group discovers that Lillian Middle School’s honors Biology teacher, Dr. Woodard (Glynn Turman) is responsible for the crash. (He’s also miraculously survived). He relays an eerie message telling the kids to speak of what happened to no one otherwise they and their parents will be killed. Just as they turn to leave, they see a group of men running towards them with flashlights and the film crew quickly flees the wreckage. Joe is unable to recover his makeup box, but he does, however, take one of the mysterious plastic cubes that have spilled from out of the demolished train cars.
After these initial scenes, the film begins to wane. The dialogue leaves much to be desired and the plot is not incredibly original. It is discovered the United States Air Force is trying to cover up some military secret regarding extraterrestrial (and in this case a subterranean) life form. They tortured it until it wanted to destroy all of mankind. After combing the city for evidence, and receiving little cooperation from the Sheriff’s office, Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich) orders a large wildfire and then has the town evacuated under the pretense of saving them from said fire. In reality, he hopes to capture and kill the pissed off alien. Meanwhile, Joe and is friend must go back to the town in order to save Alice who has been captured. They discover among Dr. Woodard’s belongings, and ex-Air Force member, that they must show some compassion towards the creature in order to save Alice, the town and themselves. It just wants to build its spaceship, from all of the plastic cubes plus the entire town’s missing electronics and all things mechanized.
Joe discovers where the alien has been hiding after visiting his mother’s grave at the cemetery. He leads his friends there as they dodge tanks, missiles, rifles and machine gun fire. The only injury suffered among them is a possibly broken leg by Martin. Charles stays behind with Martin while Joe and Cary run to the cemetery. Cary, always equipped with sparklers, homemade cherry bombs and various other explosives, is able to provide light while the two descend upon the alien’s layer.
The extraterrestrial being is almost always cast in shadow and, it’s only when Joe tries to save the lives of his friends as well as that of the alien that a close up is provided. With multiple legs (four? six?), it has an overgrown insect quality. Throughout the film, however, it is made perfectly clear that it is a huge, loud being greedily using the town’s electricity. In the climactic scene, the alien opens its eyes and you want it to be freed.
The hero of the story, as well as the strongest actor, is definitely Joe. I’m a fan of Kyle Chandler from his role in the television series Friday Night Lights, so I was thrilled to find out he was in this film. I, however, wasn’t overly impressed with anyone’s acting.
Super 8 is just not my favorite kind of film and it would have taken quite a bit to impress me, I’ll admit. I will say, the credits are worth sitting through!