by Diane Ligman
Super 8, produced my Steven Spielberg and directed by JJ Abrams, opening this weekend, focuses on a group of middle school friends in a small town outside Dayton, OH who are trying to make a zombie movie to enter into the 1979 Cleveland Super 8 Film Festival. After sneaking out of their houses, they are filming a scene at the train depot late at night. They witness a truck drive onto the tracks and cause a massive train accident. When people start to show up, they run, promising each other they will never tell anyone they were there. But once the weird events start to happen, they know their secret will come out.
Super 8 is a beautiful movie. Everything looks authentic, the cinematography is well done and the CGI, for the most part, looks very good. The plot is well paced and definitely keeps the suspense up. It’s a monster movie more in the terms of old school monster movies, not the slasher kind of today. It deals with first loves, losses and true friendship and does so all through the point of view of a children during those awkward years when you are not really a kid but definitely not an adult.
Which brings us to the best part of the film, the children. They don’t have to be wise beyond their years, but they do do incredibly brave things purely out of loyalty to each other. These kids do not understand everything going on, but there is an innocence in their optimism that can do whatever they are determined to do, whether make a movie that wins a film festival or save one of their own from the big bad.
These wonderful aspects though are due to the writing of the characters. What sells it is the child actors themselves. There is nothing forced about their performances. Their mannerisms, speech and interactions all ring sincere. Joel Courtney, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths and Gabriel Basso, as the four best friends who are making the movie are incredibly pitch perfect. They tease each other, goof around and act just like kids their age would. It has been a long time since kids were portrayed on screen as acting their actual age. But Elle Fanning steals the show. Not only does she do a great job portraying Alice, but even when she is acting in the kids’ zombie movie, she blows the other kids away, something that is actually acknowledged by the group of friends. Though she has been in other movies, she has always been referred to as Dakota Fanning’s younger sister. This performance will definitely break her out of her sister’s shadow.
Though not that bad, Kyle Chandler’s and Ron Eldard’s performances pale in comparison to those of their child co-workers. It’s not really their fault – although they are vital to moving the plot forward, it is obvious that the writing was more focused on the kids than how the adults are portrayed. In turn, they come across somewhat flat due to their dialogue.
The ending is a bit cheesy. Since this is a throwback to early 80s movies, it makes sense, as pretty much all of those movies have really cheesy endings. It was just very obvious since they had kept everything very realistic in dialogue and actions of the characters, that the ending just feels little off.
Super 8 is the best movie of the summer so far. X-Men: First Class was wonderful, and is a strong number 2, but this movie nails it. And while it is not perfect, but there is more tension between Joel Courtney’s Joe and his father Jackson, played by Kyle Chandler than there ever was in the Thor/Odin relationship. And I certainly laughed more than I did during The Hangover 2 (granted that isn’t saying much.)
However, I would not recommend taking a child who hasn’t at least hit double digits to this movie. There is a lot of death throughout this whole movie. And JJ Abrams steals a page from Spielberg’s book and keeps the monster hidden through most of the movie. This leads to a lot of moments where you see the after effects and are left with your imagination to fill in the rest. And that can be more terrifying than seeing it, especially for small children.
That said, go see Super 8. It is a genre movie that embraces the concept of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in a very capable way. It is well worth it to see this on the big screen. I think you will walk out reminded what it was like before you truly grew up.