Super 8 Review

Super 8
Written & Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Zach Mills, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso

It’s getting harder and harder to make movies like Super 8. Without the marketing muscle of a comic book superhero or a million dollar mug to slap on the poster, director J.J. Abrams gave the Hollywood bean counters dangerously little to count on. Even after Star Trek proved Abrams could direct the hell out of a summer blockbuster, the budget allocated for his pet follow-up is as diminutive as its young cast.

There is one megaton name Abrams drops on the Super 8 one-sheet: Steven Spielberg. But then, even his involvement means little when stinkers like Transformers and Eagle Eye regularly reappropriate his reputation for their own nefarious purposes. Fortunately, Abrams’ connection to Spielberg is more personal.

Super 8 is a tribute to the early accomplishments of the famous filmmaker, and to his ilk who fell under the Amblin Entertainment banner in the 1980s. Abrams draws thirstily from their well, and precedes his film with that iconic E.T. over-the-moon title card. His contribution isn’t quite the missing masterpiece many might have hoped, but it is a fun sci-fi throwback with modern flourishes and plenty of heart. Imagine that.

Like Richard Donner’s The Goonies, the pint-sized protagonists of Super 8 are kids. Not the angsty teenage set that Twilight has cornered, but kids. Cute, flawed, and endearing, the cast and casting director deserve a lot of credit. Two of the youngest stars make their debut here, including Joel Courtney as Joe, a boy dealing with the untimely death of his mother, and Riley Griffiths as Charles — Joe’s (token big boned) friend with directorial aspirations.

Hence the title, a love of filmmaking permeates Super 8 — not just in Abrams’ confident, informed direction, but among his characters as well. Set in the summer of ’79, our heroes sneak out by night to shoot scenes for Charles’ schlocky zombie detective short, The Case. Anyone who’s messed around with a camcorder as a kid or endured an amateur film festival will immediately recognize the beats. Armed with approximations of professional equipment that would put my friends and I and our Mickey Mouse operation to shame, these characters are seriously creative. But then, being written by J.J. Abrams doesn’t hurt.

It’s no real spoiler that Super 8 is an alien flick, and Charles’ little project takes a dramatic turn when he records something he was never meant to see. A loosed extraterrestrial menace stirs up trouble in the close-knit community, but with the subsequent government invasion, the first act’s micro-focus begins to blur. Spielberg’s own E.T. benefited from an exclusively adolescent perspective. By comparison, Super 8 wanders.

Though we’re never parted from Joe long, the unfolding alien drama rarely meshes with the human story. Creature characterization should be married to his coming-of-age, but instead, exposition usually amounts to an isolated attack on a tertiary character. The scenes play well with suspense and camera trickery, but in hindsight, the plot is pretty much paused for action.

Super 8 is still a summer movie to aspire to. Like Inception, it defiantly forgoes franchising in favor of an as-yet untapped creative reserve. Of course, Abrams draws from the same wellspring that Spielberg, Donner, and Dante drank from, but even when he borrows, he reminds us why so many films made for triple the price aren’t half as enjoyable — heart. Call Abrams overambitious, but his is a story of love, reconciliation, and friendship. How exactly do you quantify that? — Colin

SCORE: 3.5 stars

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  • Mikey T

    I’d give a 2 and a half. Decent enough and Elle Fanning was EXCELLENT in it, she is definitely a young actress with a bright future. I just felt the story was lacking in parts and had an extremely cheesy ending. It started out very good but failed to pay off in the end. My expectations were high for this so maybe that affects my overall grade, but I expected much more from an Abrams/Speilberg collaboration.

  • Tomoo

    I really enjoyed the film but the number of jump scares was pretty disappointing, especially since a couple of less cheesy surprises actually did get me to twitch a bit.

  • Andrew

    Loved throwing up the old Amblin Entertainment logo at the beggining. The movie isn’t monumental but it’s pretty damn good and I think it holds up alone, without the Spielbergian hipster nostalgia.

  • neve6

    Finally a movie I enjoyed for several different reasons: the jumpy scares, the really great kids, the alien we don’t fully get to see until the end. I loved it – 4 starts for me.

  • Thom


    I can’t believe that I just watched the same Super 8 that all the other people who wrote reviews about this movie watched. This was the worst movie that I have seen since Bobby Deerfield ! Abrams would have done better making a movie about a chain of motels.First, how the hell does the teacher survive a head on collision with a mega-ton , high speed train and come away with just some facial cuts ????? WTF. Then, can anybody explain to me why and/or how the deputy sheriffs wife died and why did the young girls Dad feel guilty about it? From here (about 7-8 minutes into the movie) , it got more absurd. The alien, referred to as HE, goes through the better part of the flick tossing cars, trucks , stoves , busses and whatever around like he’s flipping pancakes, but at the used car lot, he meticulously removes all the engines from all the cars without not even putting a scratch on any of the cars. Now, throughout the movie, HE, collects some humans and stores them upside down in his batcave or whatever you want to call it, for what reason?? Never explained! I just read a review where the reviewer had commented on the ” Teary-Eyed Ending”…….ARE YOU F*****G SH*****G ME ??????? I felt more sympathy for Momma Alien when Sigourney dispatched her permanently. And as far as the ENDING ending……PUHLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEZ. HE, either magnetically or telepathically sucks up cars, trucks, rifles , stoves and the like to form what is supposed to be his escape ship. But, some of the soldiers still had their rifles and amidst this sucking up of everything metallic in sight, the deputy sheriff pulls up in a Jeep that for some strange reason must have been sprinkled with some magic military dust, because it was not affected by this magnetic sucking upness. I don’t know, maybe I should have burned one before I watched this piece of utter trash. I left with the feeling that my intelligence was questioned. 100% disappointed.

  • Sean

    I have to say I agree whole heatedly with review number 5. This movie sucked from the beginning. The previous review points out several of the more glaring flaws in the plot and just plain old continuity.

    My examples are more subtle but at the end when the star of our little mangled mess looses his trinket to the magnetic monsters creation, why does the 70s porn necklace of the girls father stay neatly put under his “wife beater” T shirt, in close up at that?

    In the end, who are we to feel sorry for? The monster that was just munching on hived humans in the previous scenes? really? What about all these rivalries that were set up? are they magically wiped clean when the credits roll? We have no ending. We have several misdirected slights of hand trying to distract us but really, this was typical Hollywood thoughtless stuff that fails at even the tried and true formulas.

    Secondary titles that could have been on this poster:
    “ET Grows a pair”
    “ET really really wants to go home”
    “ET, this time it’s leg munching time”

    While my wife said she thought it was an updated teen film in the vein of Goonies, I disagree for the very mixed messages it sends, especially the “tearful ending” where the guy that just ate a few people gets to finally go home. I guess that’s justice? I cannot recommend this movie to anyone. It’s just flat.


  • Colin

    Thom, if you don’t understand why Elle Fanning’s father felt guilty about the death of Joe’s mother, you couldn’t have been paying very close attention.

  • Kasper

    Finally saw this – and for once I actually agree with Colin… and it feels wrong.

  • Js

    When i was growing up, femanism had succeeding in atleast minimally respecting the need for female characters and character development – even in stories about aliens and a posse of kids (ET). Yet here i am shocked and dumbfounded that there are not only virtually no girls or women in this flick, but the one who is playing the token sexy blond gets f***ing slapped by the “hero”. F*^#% everything about that. This film is sliding pop-culture back down a slipery paternalistic slope. Yuck! I love sci-fi and adventure, but not at this cost.