As the basis for one of 2011s big blockbusters, J. J. Abrams has taken us back to 1979 in an attempt to recapture some of the spirit of adventure in films such as ET, Stand by Me or The Goonies. A group of young friends are hell-bent on making their own zombie movie with their Super 8 camera for a local competition . When filming one night at a railway station they witness a spectacular train crash. Soon after, the small town of Lillian, Ohio, starts to experience some strange goings-on (people disappearing, all the dogs running away from town, microwaves being stolen etc), which are compounded by the Air Force arriving to “tidy up” the wreckage of the train crash. It seems that something was being transported in the train that crashed, something that the friends caught on camera while they were filming.
Essentially a creature-feature, Super 8 was tremendous fun. The main characters were the kids, with the story being told through the eyes of Joe Lamb, brilliantly realised by Joel Courtney. His best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the driving force behind the zombie movie, along with Cary, who loves to blow stuff up, and Martin who is constantly terrified. Elle Fanning is Alice, a girl who the guys are seemingly in awe of at the beginning of the film, but who is brought in to be in the zombie film (initially only because she can drive). However, her presence soon threatens Joe and Charles’ friendship. All of the characters are very believable and all of the performances are spot on. There is enough back-story and emotional exposition so that we care about these characters; a crucial point as their friendship is the focus of the film. I also thought that Kyle Chandler was very good as Joe’s Dad; he is the deputy sheriff, thrust into the fore both as a father (his wife died in an industrial accident), and as a deputy, as the Sheriff disappears early on in the curious happenings.
An atmosphere of mystery runs throughout the film. There is a great deal of tension as the audience has as little idea about what is happening as the characters in the story. I say that this is essentially a creature-feature, but we do not really see the creature for a long time, the reveal possibly being only 20 minutes from the end. In my opinion this is great, it is all part of the mystery; revelation too early on would have ruined any emotional investment in the film. When we finally do see it, the alien isn’t really scary (that’s not the point), but still somehow slightly underwhelming; I was reminded a lot of General Grievous actually. A lot of the great atmosphere can probably be attributed to the wonderful cinematography by Zack Snyder favourite: Larry Fong.
Any criticisms I have of the film are really only superficial. The ending is really quite cheesy, and after all the compact storytelling leading up to this point, seems strangely bolted-on, like it doesn’t really belong there. There are also several unexplained mysteries that remain, well, unexplained by the end of the movie: disappearing microwaves, or car engines? The truck that causes the train crash at the beginning should have been absolutely mangled, with nothing left of it, certainly no-one left alive in it. In fact, given the enormous size of the train, and the relatively small size of the truck, there shouldn’t have been a crash at all; the train should have just ploughed straight through the pick-up! I also found some of the famous J.J. Abrams lens-flare distracting sometimes, especially when there wasn’t even an obvious light source to cause it, and yet there was flare all over the screen.
But these are only insignificant complaints. The film was great fun, very entertaining, featuring some amazing action sequences, not least the initial train crash (which was LOUD!). I though that the cast were great, and the story that revolved around the kids was very believable, aliens not withstanding!