Super 8 Netflix | Amazon | Epix DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich, Glynn Turman
Originally Released: June 9, 2011
After dealing with the tragic decision of viewing the should-have-been-an-abortion movie called Skyline, I really needed something to wash the remnants of shit out of my mouth. That film in the last streaming review was so terrible, I have been stuck in an almost catatonic state for the duration of week, rocking back and forth, weeping for my teddy bear and soiling my pants.
Cheers to the wonder that is J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg, for it was the epic science fiction movie Super 8, evoking a potent injection of nostalgia, which came to my rescue. From the opening sequence, I began feeling the haze of depression leave my tortured brain, in a manner that was akin to the pins-and-needles sensation of circulation returning to an appendage that was numbed.
In short, Super 8 is a call to my youth that is such an incredible realization in film-making that is sure to be as influential to future Sci-Fi writers and directors as much as what last year’s Cabin In The Woods will be to horror movie creators in years to come. Watching Super 8 after Skyline is analogous to awesome make-up sex after that bad argument with your lover. And we all know how awesome make-up sex is.
And in the same way as Cabin In The Woods, Super 8 takes the best elements of some of most well-known Science Fiction epics from my youth and mixes it with new elements brought to the table.
Situated in glorious 1979, the year KISS became disco with "I Was Made For Loving You" (though the song is sadly absent from the soundtrack), the movie follows the adventure of young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) helping his close friends with making an independent zombie movie using Super 8 Film. After sneaking out in the middle of the night, the team arrives at an old train station location for their movie. During filming, a train belonging to the US Air Force passes and crashes in an epic display on screen that rivals some of the best disaster movies of all time.
Auspiciously surviving the crash, Joe and his friends discover mysterious objects fallen from the train that look like a cross between a Rubik’s cube and those iconic companion cubes from Portal. Despite their trauma, and findings, the group has not noticed that something else has escaped from the train wreck… something that will change their lives… and something extra-terrestrial…
Cue Theremin melody?
Hell no! Bring in that larger-than-life John Williams… uh, I mean Michael Giacchino score, goddamn it!
Plot-wise, it would be cynical of any person to think that Super 8 is just a mish-mash of recycled components from Spielberg’s science fiction movies of days gone by. There is no question that the movie has an extremely strong connection to and echoing of these elements, but at its core is an especially solid story with strong emphasis on character, and deep-rooted symbolism and subtext. Like Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, J. J. Abrams’ Super 8 is bound to become a long-remembered movie to very young sci-fi viewers that they will re-watch for decades to come, and continue to inherit considerable value from it.
The allegories used in the movie are especially important. And while it is used effectively to create a new mythos and universe for the film, it (like Star Wars, for example) uses major elements from myths, legends, and fairy tales to help strengthen the story and the viewing experience. As one example, Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman) speaks only a few times in the movie, serving the role of an enigmatic oracle or seer, delivering omen-like phrases to folks he interacts with.
Looking at 20th century mythology, Abrams (in partnership with Spielberg) brings elements from those familiar classics that also work especially well with the viewing experience. From the leading male child in the form of Joe, on his own hero’s journey like Luke or Elliot, to the antagonist military figures that conjure the same standard as that of the troublesome government agents and scientists from E.T.
Having the account established in 1979 is also a damn trip. The concept of having to pay for getting film developed (and having to wait several days for it) reminds me of how much of a valued commodity it was, in comparison to the life-streaming Instagramming hipsters of the Facebook Age would have confounded our parents at how wasteful their shots are.
The Sony Walkman makes its first appearance in history, in the form of a fucking cameo of all things; as does the fear of the Soviets in the continuing Red Scare emanating from the Cold War. Holy shit, what a bunch of dicks we were… you think we would have learned our lesson from that stuff, but no, here we are shaking in our ugg boots over Al-Qaeda.
Crap – I just sullied the site with my politics again… sorry, Eve!
Moving right along, but related to the nostalgia foundations, the 1979 music infused into the soundtrack of the movie is nothing short of brilliant. From the emergence of the New Wave genre (in its extremely early days), all of the songs selected (from the Kinks to Blondie to ELO) are brilliant, with choices exhibiting the classic tunes that still hold up their weight today, and (I certainly don’t mind saying this) stomp all over contemporary pop music. Fuck you, Justin Beiber, you need a history lesson.
Furthermore, the score for the movie by Giacchino is extremely in the vein of John Williams, with many leit-motif pieces reminiscent of character themes from the classic works of Spielberg and Lucas. And while it is evocative of those works, the composer’s efforts in Super 8 are considerable in establishing moods and ambience in specific scenes, done in an almost effortless fashion.
Additionally on the technical side, it would be pretty obvious if I said that the filming techniques and cinematography evoke the same ambience as that of classic sci-fi films from the 1970’s and early 1980’s.
But the filming techniques and cinematography REALLY evoke the same ambience as that of classic sci-fi films from the 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Amalgamated with careful light direction, the film-makers brilliantly bring out those nostalgic feels of the classic movies; but at the same time somehow deliver something new to the table, a new flavor that results in such a delightful movie viewing experience, you’ll be watching it all over again for more.
The performances in Super 8 are… well… super. Young Joel Courtney fronts the charge, in an especially convincing performance that has now become eternally etched into the fabric of my memory. The ensemble of kids have a fabulous chemistry that resembles famous adventure gangs of kids from classic stories (The Famous Five, for example), as well as from some of the above mentioned great sci-fi flicks from the 1970’s and 1980’s. Elle Fanning makes a notable performance in the film, materializing a memorable partnership with Courtney; and Riley Griffiths reminds me of myself when I was a kid: fat, bossy, and obsessed with geek movies.
Out of the grown-ups, Kyle Chandler is impressive as Joe’s father, established as the Sheriff’s Deputy in the small town; while Ron Eldard brings forth a career redefining performance that (almost) erases his memorable role in Deep Impact. Noah Emmerich is overwhelmingly intimidating, leading the advance and manipulation of the antagonist Air Force conspirators.
Undoubtedly, however, the strongest element of Super 8 is the moral foundation of the story. From tragedy and loss, the plot follows the learning process in life of learning how to let go and move on as we emerge from the mourning process. On a larger level, we find that forgiveness and redemption can only lead to resilience and strength. Both moral elements form a considerably strong infrastructure, and Abrams manages them so persuasively that they integrate seamlessly between the characters’ journeys, and make the film more about the people than it does the alien and his badass spaceship.
Perhaps it’s because I am still somewhat traumatized by the disaster of Skyline, but I’m finding it incredibly difficult to find fault or criticism with Super 8. The movie is, honestly, so well written, acted, directed, and depicted that it damn near brought me to tears. It’s a powerful story, with a fun and adventurous ride into the science fiction that was, and could be.
If you have not seen Super 8 yet, then watch this one as soon as you can. If you have, then watch it again. The viewing experience will make you feel like a million bucks in used bank notes.
Yes, that is a good thing. Like that make-up sex I mentioned earlier… but with lens flare!