Super 8 is not my perfect summer movie, but it comes damn close. I said on Twitter that you should see it at the drive-in, and that is true. You should see it sitting in a lawn chair in the back of a pick-up truck, eating an ice cream sandwich. And you should probably see it instead of any of the superhero movies. You should definitely see it instead of any of the superhero movies I have seen so far.
I saw it at Pacific Place with a dinner of the kids combo (a small popcorn that is actually small! chocolate milk! fruit snacks!) which is the next best thing & also recommended. (Seriously, guys, the AMC kids combo is the best concessions deal. In chain theaters, anyway.)
But! The movie! Super 8 is basically a throwback kids adventure flick, with 2011 special effects. But unlike a lot of blockbusters, the effects serve the story and not the other way around. In fact, much as apparently the big bad of the film has been kept secret in the marketing, so it is teasingly revealed in the film. There is some delicious direction involved in keeping it hidden, my favorite being a slowly-turning gas station sign blocking the view of an attack inside the mini-mart.
The story is about a group of young teen boys in 1979, shooting their own zombie film, and some of the best parts of the movie come from their fantastic, utterly believable chemistry. They are real kids with great comic timing, and they are the heart of the picture.
The makeup artist & head model-builder is our lead, Joe Lamb (newcomer Joel Courtney), and his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the writer-director with a pure love of movies and a constant eye out for “production value”. Charles decides their movie needs a bigger emotional punch, so he casts Alice (Elle Fanning, almost freakishly good when performing in the zombie film, seriously), and thus we have Potential Romance and/or Angst. Hooray! There are also a few other nerds, including a kid with a mouthful of metal who loves blowing things up. Awesome.
We also have some Family Drama: Joe’s mother dies at the start of the film, and he and his father (the town deputy, played by Kyle Chandler, best known as my beloved Coach Taylor) are having an unsurprisingly rough time of it. Alice and her father (Ron Eldard) are also having issues, let us say, but as they seem to arise more from plot needs than character they work less well. One of very few missteps, though, so I forgave it. In Fanning & Eldard’s defense, it’s definitely a writing issue and not an acting one.
What I liked, and I think makes Super 8 really work, is that Abrams takes his sweet time setting up all of these interpersonal elements before the supernatural shit hits the fan. We have the friendships and the tension there brought on by Alice, the families and the tension there with the death of Joe’s mother, we have a great look into the amateur film (and really, the making of that zombie movie alone would have been a hilarious picture) and only then do we get to the action set-piece of the train crash.
The crash brings with it Strange Happenings and also the military being suspicious, and since it’s 1979 the kids can bike all over town investigating and also shooting their movie with suddenly vastly improved production value.
Basically, it’s a lot of formula fun, with a heart and with a fair number of jumpy-outy bits if you are a jumpy-outy sort of person, and I enjoyed the hell out of it, even though it largely failed on the lady front. Please, Hollywood, a throwback adventure movie with teen girls next, please thank you!
Alongside the final credits they run the film-within-a-film. I don’t need to tell you to stay for it; you won’t be able to leave.