Directed by JJ Abrams. Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Amanda Michalka, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard.
With a story by JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg (also producing), both wanting to relive the magic of the 70s and 80s sci-fi films like E.T. and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, you expect a marvel of storytelling. And while Super 8 does take you back to an era when emotions reached out to you instead of hollow 3D effects, it falters a bit on plot premise and compassion.
Back in time, to the older, simpler days, when kids used to brandish Super 8mm film cameras to make home movies, Super 8 is set in 1979 in a small town in Ohio. A group of bushy haired school kids are making a zombie movie complete with make-up and props. Young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is our film’s (Super 8, not the home movie they’re making) protagonist and his love interest is Alice (Elle Fanning, Dakota’s younger sister). Joe’s best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) directs and for this he needs a scene near a railway station. While shooting said scene a train actually derails spilling its contents of strange cubes and an injured scientist who warns the kids of impending doom.
From then on the small town experiences strange power outages, disappearances and dogs leaving their homes and running away. It’s up to Deputy Sheriff Jackson Lamb (Joe’s widower dad, played by Kyle Chandler) to find out what’s going on as the army swoops down and plays their covert game of hide the secret alien monster at all costs.
I like Super 8 because it reminds me of E.T. and lots of other sci-fi films I grew up on. It has that same look and feel about it; the music by Michael Giacchino (Star Trek, Cloverfield, Mission Impossible) takes you back in time. Even Spielberg’s favourite element, the kids on the bicycles, which he used memorably in E.T., finds a place in this homage.
But – yes there is a but – unlike E.T. you feel no compassion or empathy for the alien creature that you only get to see at the end of the film. This insectoid-type being is stranded on Earth, longing to go home (sound familiar, ‘E.T. Go Home’). It kills innocent townsfolk, destroys property, as does the ruthless and frankly incompetent military. They’re seen blowing up houses and parks with no sight of an alien around. I realise showing less sometimes is more, but this scene was a bit ridiculous. With E.T. you felt for the alien, you were there to witness his friendship with the boy Elliot. With Super 8 there’s just one scene of about a minute between Joe and the extraterrestrial. And it’s flat as a pancake. They still don’t make them like they used to. I guess they never will.