Starring: Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso
“Stop talking about production value, the Air Force is going to kill us.” (Cary, Super 8)
I’ve complained a few times on That Was A Bit Mental that they don’t make films like The Goonies or The Monster Squad any more – films where children act realistically, talk over each other, swear from time to time and are in genuine danger throughout their adventure. Super 8 is proof that, though rare, these films can still exist in modern cinema.
Set in 1979, Super 8 tells the story of a group of 13-year-olds who meet up on occasion to shoot a low-budget zombie film using their Super 8 movie camera. While filming a scene near a railway line they manage to catch film of a train speeding past them, colliding with a truck on the line and causing the mother of all train crashes. Running over to the truck they find their biology teacher behind the wheel, who cryptically tells them that they and their families are all going to die if they tell anyone what happened. Little do they know that the train contained a huge alien life form – one who’s now free, not too chuffed at the way it’s been treated, and well up for a shitstorm.
Put bluntly, this film is superb. The first half-hour is charming as you instantly fall in love with all the kids in the group (not in that way you maniac). Their dialogue is completely believable and you completely buy into the idea that they’re a bunch of close friends, in particular the main character Joe and his chunky chum Charles (the director of the kids’ film). The introduction of Alice (the wonderful Elle Fanning) makes things even more entertaining as you see this group of young teenage boys swooning over her but still trying to act cool. It’s all just so genuine.
Then the action begins, and for the most part it’s sensational – particularly the train crash. It may only last around 60 seconds but it’s an incredible piece of filmmaking (and the Blu-ray version knows it, offering a huge sub-menu on the disc filled with sketches, animatics, interviews and footage from the dailies of that single sequence). It’s relentlessly energetic and is truly the highlight of the film, which sadly means nothing else in the following 80 minutes or so can top it.
Still, there’s still plenty to love about Super 8. The subplot about the death of Joe’s mum just a few months before the events of the film adds some much-needed emotion to proceedings, especially when it ties into his relationship with Alice and her father. While it does get a little much at times (the final scene in the whole film is schmaltz overload) it’s worth remembering this is a family sci-fi movie – it’s essentially a modern day ET – and as such these scenes are to be expected.
My only real concern is the alien itself, which is disappointing. Director JJ Abrams goes down the Jaws and Alien route by not showing much of it until near the end of the film, but when you finally see it you sort of understand why – it’s a fairly underwhelming, generic creation and despite its size it never seems truly terrifying (even after it smashes a cop’s face into a bloody pulp).
Rubbish alien design aside, Super 8 is brilliant. It’s got an ’80s Spielberg vibe running through it (Spielberg was one of the producers) and it’s got an affable cast of brilliant child actors who entertain in every single scene. See it.
If you enjoyed this review and would like to read more, here’s a complete list of reviews on That Was A Bit Mental complete with brief descriptions. We’ve got 135 reviews and counting!