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Super 8

A 2011 movie directed by J.J. Abrams.

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Spielberg as Seen Through the Eyes of Abrams

  • Jun 11, 2011
Star Rating:

Going into a Steven Spielberg film, we expect a number of distinctive thematic elements: Ordinary characters in extraordinary situations; strained parent/child relationships, especially between fathers and sons; a childlike inquisitiveness at the unexplainable; friendship, the loss of innocence, and coming of age; overt sentimentalism; and in some cases, excitement/awe/terror at the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Super 8, produced by Spielberg, is in many ways just as autobiographical as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind – perhaps even more so, considering the film’s Ohio location (Spielberg’s home state) and a crucial subplot involving budding teenage filmmakers, who are driven to make their movie even as their town descends into chaos.
While clearly Spielberg-esque, Super 8 has been written and directed by J.J. Abrams. This would be fine were it not for his previous two films, the unnecessary Mission: Impossible III and the highly disappointing Star Trek reboot, which reduced Gene Roddenberry’s ideals of science and society into a loud and visually assaultive summer popcorn flick. (To his credit, he also produced Cloverfield, quite possibly one of the greatest monster movies ever made.) Although Super 8 is his best film to date, and while it certainly is recommendable for sheer entertainment, it does not get away unscathed; it reveals a clear disconnect between the director’s propensity for action and comedy and the producer’s dreamy-eyed sense of wonder. It’s an awkward mix to say the least.

The film takes place in the transition from 1979 to 1980 and is set in a typical middle-American small town, where kids ride on bikes past mom-and-pop convenience stores. It begins with a funeral, specifically for the mother of a young movie fan named Joe (Joel Courtney). He’s one of those kids whose messy room is adorned with horror movie posters and model kits of train sets and movie monsters like The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He’s now left with his father, a local deputy named Jackson (Kyle Chandler), who hasn’t found a constructive way to cope with his loss and clearly doesn’t understand his son. As the months pass, Joe and his friends, a motley crew of adolescent caricatures, focus their attention on filming a Super 8 zombie movie, which they hope to enter into a local film competition.
One night, they sneak out after dark to film a scene at a train station. A freight train speeds into view, which the director feels would add considerable production value. Things take a dark turn when a truck drives onto the tracks, causing the train to derail and crash in spectacular fashion; cars fly through the air, debris bounces across the fields, and oh, the explosions. The kids, scraped but unharmed, find bizarre metal cubes, which litter the accident scene. They also see the door on one of the cars fly open and hear as something – something – escapes into the night. They then have a frightening encounter with the driver of the truck: Their science teacher, Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), who has miraculously survived the crash. The police arrive, and the kids flee ... but not before picking up their camera, which continued filming even after getting knocked over.
That’s when strange things start happening around town. Lights flicker, indicating a problem with the power supply. Electronic household objects are disappearing, as are car engines, radios, and even people. Dogs run off, only to be found in different cities. And something monstrous is destroying buildings and vehicles, all the while digging massive underground tunnels. It isn’t long before army tanks lumber down Main Street while soldiers set up camp. Their mission is, of course, classified. That doesn’t stop Jackson from trying to get to the bottom of things. All the while, as Joe and his friend struggle to get their movie finished, they do a little investigating of their own. What did they inadvertently capture on film? And how does it connect to Dr. Woodward?

The ads for Super 8 have suggested a science fiction thriller, something along the lines of Independence Day. In reality, it’s a kid’s adventure, owing more to the style of another Spielberg production, The Goonies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. The problem is that there isn’t much “kid” in this movie; there’s no real sense of wonder or imagination, least of all in the secret of the escaped creature (my lips are sealed). I also took issue with the film’s sense of humor, which pops up in the most unlikely and unwanted of places. Is it just me, or does following a bloody and traumatizing creature attack scene with a joke about being too stoned to drive seem monumentally out of place?
There are, however, some tender moments between Joe and a teenage girl named Alice (Elle Fanning); they become friends, although Jackson is adamantly against this. I leave it to you discover why. I also enjoyed sitting through the end credits, for Abrams allows us to see the kids’ finished film. Let’s just say that all filmmakers have to start somewhere. Super 8 has many moments of great excitement and fun, and it certainly doesn’t go wrong in the visual effects department. It is, in short, a serviceable movie. It’s apparent to me, however, that the producer is making one movie while the director is making another. They do find some middle ground along the way, which is good. But considering the story we’re being told, I guess I was hoping for a little more.


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June 11, 2011
excellent review, Chris, I think we have several things that we agree on and yet there are things we don't in regards to this film. I liked the teen adventure part about it, but I am not sure, I feel that Abrams may have introduced so many things that he lost focus. I did really like that zombie movie though LOL! Thanks for sharing!
June 11, 2011
Yes, the zombie movie they made was amusing. I wasn't all that impressed by the secret of the creature, however, and I felt the sense of humor was awkward. That being said, I too liked the teen adventure aspect of it.
June 11, 2011
the humor was alright but it was out of place at times. There were good parts that kept me entertained. I did not like the monster aspect of it all.
June 11, 2011
I don't know how you felt about Cloverfield, but I thought it was really, really good. One of the things that made it that way -- for me, at least -- was that no explanation was given for the monster. We didn't know what it was, where it came from, or why it was there. If Super 8 had taken the same approach, maybe it would have worked better.
June 11, 2011
Cloverfield was alright, and I agree about the creature there but I had issues with the execution of the characters' inner core. This one I had major issues about the way some qualities were introduced and then abandoned, and some were rather undefined. I also had issues with the 'go home' thing.
More Super 8 (2011 film) reviews
review by . June 11, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
J.J. Abrams has mastery over marketing gimmicks and he knows exactly how to attract viewer attention. If you remember the ploy he pulled off with “Cloverfield” then you would know that he does the same thing with “Super 8”. He keeps the trailers vague as to tease and to arouse viewer interest. Well, Abrams is a great creator of cinematic hype but I have to say, this is not the movie as advertised. As much as I can appreciate the marketing skills of Abrams and his intentions …
review by . June 13, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
J.J. Abrams is a name that always raises eyes in the sci-fi community.  Teaming up with Spielberg, he first grew interest in Super 8 with one of the most remarkable trailers we've seen for a film of it's genre in a while.  Where so many trailers are hell bent on showing you as much of the movie as possible, the trailer for Super 8 only showed one small snippet that didn't actually spoil anything, but rather made people curious as to what exactly it was.  This marketing …
review by . April 01, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Let's make a hit, says JJ Abrams. So much for making a good movie.
JJ Abrams has made hit movies. Has he ever made a good movie? With Super 8, he wrote, directed and produced two movies, and sacrificed the good to make sure he had a hit.       Super 8 begins just fine, the story of a group of young teens making a movie about zombies. Charles (Riley Griffiths) is determined to enter his movie in a film contest. He’s the director and writer. Joe (Joel Courtney) is his best friend and make-up specialist.  When Charles recruits …
review by . February 18, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
I had read Wookpak's review of this film an am definately in agreement. I have not seen The Goonies and or Cloverfield but I can say that there are a lot of similarities with this film to ET. A bunch of High School kids are filming a zombie movie in 1979. The mother of one of the boys (Joe Lamb) died in a factory accident. The boy's father (Jackson Lamb) is the sherriff and at his mother's wake we see the sherriff arresting a blond haired man (Louis Dainard) that came to visit. It turns out that …
review by . July 09, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****     For each talented director, there is one film, or perhaps many films, that the man or woman was destined to direct. For J.J. Abrams, director of the recent reboot of the "Star Trek" franchise, his film is "Super 8". I knew the man was talented as both a writer and a director; a sci-fi geek who is always ready to explode with knowledge and insight. He has a fondness of the works of Steven Spielberg. And now, he's made a film not only about his fondness, but …
review by . June 18, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Super 8 aspires to be a lot. After the first few scenes of the film you can see the attempts at the charm of Spielberg’s charm from the 80s and 90s trying it’s hardest to fuse with Abram’s sensibilities about portraying suspense on the screen and his way of establishing mystery. Super 8 isn’t a bad film, in fact I actually really liked it. However I don’t think it’s as good as it thinks it is, or even as good as collaboration between two of the strongest filmmakers …
review by . June 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
   Super 8 clearly distinguishes itself from the other summer movies in the last years by simply approaching the old-school style of filmmaking when the story, the atmosphere, the narration, the feeling counted more than the tons of exploding cars and buildings we get to see today. Super 8 is a nostalgic reminiscence of the old-school cinema, a piece of little emotional film that addresses audiences of all ages.      The story develops around this group of kids from …
review by . January 10, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Set during the summer of 1979 in a small town in Ohio, SUPER 8 revolves around Joe Lam (Joel Lamb) and his friends as they attempt to finish a Super 8 zombie movie for an upcoming Super 8 Film Festival. While filming one night at the local train station, the boys and the star actress of their production are witness to and somewhat involved with a horrible train accident that unleashes a mysterious creature. Soon after, all the dogs in the town run away, people start disappearing, and all kinds of …
review by . June 18, 2011
4 Stars: Something this way comes
There are some things in this world that  humanity was never meant to  understand, never meant to  find out the truth, never meant to  grasp the reality of something more than the world  that we have built for ourselves and the prefabricated lies that we have been feed to make us believe the singular truth. The one all consuming truth that  in this world, in this universe we are the only life that exist, we are the only thing that lives and that Earth, our home  …
review by . June 14, 2011
It won't be for everyone, it won't be for those looking for sci-fi action flick. It is a fair expectation from the few details we gathered from the trailer. In that regard it has every opportunity to let you down, but if you are looking for strong story telling with a loving nod to film makers delivered in the hands of children than you are in for a treat. It has been a while since a movie has come out without any marks of irony, sarcasm, and pop culture references leaving only a well done …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Abrams has refused to reveal the plot of the film as he wants to keep it a mystery and let the images speak for themselves.[citation needed] What has been confirmed is that it will take place in 1979 and it will be a homage/tribute to Spielberg's '70s and '80s science fiction films with a mystery and supernatural feel from Abrams.

Abrams revealed the plot will follow a group of children in the 1970s as they film a movie with a Super 8 camera but while they are filming, they spot an alien escape from an Area 51 cargo train and it runs loose in their small town.

Few filmmakers have ever had a run at the tables like Steven Spielberg, whose output from 1971'sSugarland Expressto, say, 1982'sE.T.displayed an amazingly unforced melding of huge set pieces and small human gestures. Even at their most chaotic, they somehow felt organic.Super 8, writer-director J.J. Abrams's authorized tribute to classic Spielbergisms, hits all of the marks (Lived-in suburbia backdrop, check. Awestruck gazes upwards, check. Parental discord, check. Lens flares, amazingly huge check), but its adherence to the formula squelches much of its own potential. Appealing as it is to see a summer movie that retro-prioritizes character development over jittery quick-cut explosions, the viewer is always aware at how furiously it's working to seem effortless. Set in 1979, Abrams's script follows a group of movie-crazy kids ...
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Movies, Movie, Steven Spielberg, Jj Abrams, Science Fiction Films


Director: J.J. Abrams
Genre: Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Release Date: 10 June 2011 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG
Screen Writer: J.J. Abrams
Runtime: 112 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
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