Mystery, perspective, and the root of bitterness in Super 8


SPOILER ALERT – This review contains spoilers.

STINGER ALERT – When you do see the movie stay until after the credits!

In Super 8 Abrams manages to tell an emotionally engaging story about his characters’ journeys without compromising on mystery, plot, or action. The mystery begins when a group of middle school students witness a train crash and find their science teacher in the wreckage with mysterious instructions for the group. It builds as two of the kids, Charles and Joe, actually watch what their dropped camera has caught on film.

Joe’s father, Deputy Jack Lamb wrestles with his own set of puzzling clues. There are mysterious power outages, all the town’s dogs run away, and then townspeople start disappearing. Meanwhile Jack and Joe are grieving the death of wife and mother and trying to establish some sort of working relationship without her.

The group of young filmmakers are provided with great dialog and emotional depth that reminds me a bit of Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me. Charles is a passionate aspiring young filmmaker who enlists his friends to make a Zombie movie. His long-time friend Joe finds a reprieve from his grief as well as an outlet for his art. Alice desperately needs to be a part of something good. And where else can Cary find a constructive outlet for his love of blowing things up? This kid is hilarious and brave. Martin and Preston are so believable as they struggle with their fears and the humiliation of giving in to those fears. Alice and Joe’s budding friendship/romance is sweetly awkward yet unexpectedly fierce when threatened. Super 8’s kids are on the brink of a time of tremendous change and growth both as young adolescents and as children at the dawn of the information age.

The late 70’s marked the entry of the high tech world into the public consciousness as new electronic technology began entering the consumer marketplace. Super 8 cameras would soon be replaced by VHS. Cell phones would make car CB’s obsolete. Being a geek would soon be cool. The young clerk in the convenience store explaining the Walk-man to the sheriff was just priceless.

Super 8 is told from the perspective of young eyes and open hearts through snippets of conversations and snapshot moments. Super 8 provides just enough backstory. It’s cool that film reels are used to fill in the history of Dr. Woodward’s and Nelec’s involvement.

If I have one criticism of the movie it’s that Nelec is more of a plot device than an actual character. He is a morally vacant,  full of hubris, military cliche when a story this good deserves a better villain.

In ET, Keys says to Elliot, “I’m glad he met you first.” Well Super 8 shows what happens when the military gets ahold of a much bigger, uglier, more aggressive alien. When the alien escapes 20 years later he has a generally negative impression of the human race.

The timing builds tension and creates a scary and disorienting experience for the characters and the audience. Abrams waits to show his hand. We don’t see the monster until well into the movie and only later do we know he’s an alien.

The emotional, relational mysteries unfold with the plot mystery. The details of the bad blood between Jack and Louis, Alice’s father are revealed slowly. Their struggle with blame and guilt take an emotional toll on their children. Their feud mirrors the intergalactic conflict between the monster and human kind.

Super 8 resolves as the root of bitterness is cut off. After all the nuances and hints Joe proclaims the moral of this fable clearly when he explains to the alien that “bad things can happen but you can still live.” Super 8 is a good piece of story telling with just enough sweetness and heart. And lots of stuff blows up. A near perfect summer movie.

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