Super 8 is a 2011 American science fiction film written and directed by J. J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg. The film stars Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Kyle Chandler and was released on June 10, 2011in conventional and IMAX theaters. The film tells the story of a group of children who are filming their own Super 8 movie when a train derails, releasing a dangerous presence into their town. The movie was filmed in Weirton, West Virginia and surrounding areas.
In the summer of 1979, a group of friends in a small Ohio town witness a catastrophic train crash while making a super 8 movie and soon suspect that it was not an accident. Shortly after, unusual disappearances and inexplicable events begin to take place in town, and the local Deputy tries to uncover the truth – something more terrifying than any of them could have imagined.
David Denby: Spielberg and Abrams are the unwitting targets of their own irony.
Christopher Orr: A love letter to a cinematic era, before ‘blockbuster’ became a synonym for ‘franchise’ or ‘tent pole.’
Tom Long: Remember the good old days? This is the movie you went to see on a Saturday afternoon in the good old days.
Peter Bradshaw From guardian.co.uk:
JJ Abrams‘s amiable, ever so slightly disappointing mystery adventure is a weird hybrid. It’s an affectionate tribute to Spielberg classics such as Close Encounters and ET, but it is also itself, as the poster announces, a Steven Spielberg movie: Spielberg produces. So it’s part homage, part franchise operation. Spielberg has, in effect, licensed out his (former) style to Abrams, who in some way is like a lifelong burger fan entrusted with the chief managerial job at America’s biggest branch of McDonald’s.
Everything about the movie has been meticulously created or recreated: the homely suburban setting, whose housing sprawl is set across a valley or plain that can be viewed, all at once, from rising ground. The setting is 1979, a time briskly established by a quick mention of Three Mile Island on the TV news. A group of kids career around keeping secrets from the grownups, although one of them is semi-legally driving them in car: there are no bikes. They have garrulous overlapping conversations in diners, and in open-plan breakfast-bar kitchens at home. A certain alien something is in evidence, creating intense light sources suffusing its witnesses with an unearthly, buttery glow. Its very familiar-looking face is not seen clearly until almost the end, and this visitor is creating a strange termite-mound structure of found objects.
In this setting, a group of teen film-nuts – including Joe (Joel Courtney), Charles (Riley Griffiths) and Alice (Elle Fanning) – are shooting their own zombie horror flick on Super 8, that is, the home movie 8mm format; Charles has the classic home-use cine-camera made by the Austrian company Eumig. They have gone out to a remote stretch of ground near a railway track to shoot a vital scene in which Alice’s character emotionally begs her cop husband to abandon his dangerous zombie hunt. The nerdy boys are awed at how superb Alice’s performance is, and at the greater emotional maturity of girls in general. But just as they are filming, they and their camera witness a terrifying train crash, evidently part of a creepy Area-51-type conspiracy. It is a dangerous secret for them to keep, but Charles is assailed by a brilliant new plan: why not incorporate this priceless footage into their film?
It really is a terrific first act: witty, smart, exciting – and Fanning’s reading of her first scene is great, perhaps the best “rehearsal” scene since Naomi Watts’s audition piece in Mulholland Drive. The growing intimacy between Joe and Alice, which develops from Joe pasting zombie makeup on Alice’s face, has something of the Spielberg-fannishness in Kevin Williamson’s Dawson’s Creek. Later, Charles is to reveal his own feelings for Alice, and his horror at being fat and unattractive is no way allayed by his doctor’s assurances that he will one day “lean out”.
But then what? An obvious direction would be for the reality to be an amplification of what’s happening in the kids’ homespun film. But it’s no spoiler to say that zombies are not wandering across the landscape. So what is? Well, the film ranges far and wide in its search for an urgent plot that could possibly do justice to this bravura opening. It turns out that there is some bad blood between Joe’s dad and Alice’s dad, but this Capulet/Montague idea is neither satisfactorily established nor plausibly resolved. The train carriages, spectacularly flung around in the opening phase, contain weird Rubik-ish boxes, whose vital importance is clear from the military personnel swarming all over the place, gathering them back up, but the secret behind them does not deliver any clear, satisfying storyline punch. The geekery has charm, but is a little self-conscious and just occasionally, this movie resembles an open-ended, rambling drama serial that gets a little, well, lost.
Having said that, the affection and high spirits of Super 8 are infectious. The digital generation of 2011 are teased with the prehistoric conditions that film-makers had to struggle with, back in the day. The stoner guy who works at the camera store says that he can do a “rush” on developing their film: it can be completed in just three days!
Of course we do get to see the kids’ completed homemade movie, and, though it would be a cheap shot to claim that this film is a tighter and clearer piece of work than Super 8 itself, I have to confess, churlishly, to a faint disappointment here. The completed film does not particularly reveal anything that had been mysterious in the preceding action, and it does not mesh in any particularly ingenious way with the real-life adventures we have all just lived through. But it is funny and likable, like everything else Abrams has to show us.
The movie elsewhere suggests the more general experience of families’ home-movie-making. Watch Super 8 home movies and you’ll see mum and the kids, but not dad. Dad is the one doing the filming, the only one allowed to hold the camera. So the father is intensely present and absent at the same time: Abrams hints a little at this more melancholy aspect of Super 8 culture. The rest of the time it’s a boisterous genre piece with some of Spielberg’s tricks but little of his storytelling pizazz and none of his intense heartfelt belief.
Jamie Graham From TotalFilm:
Super 8, the old charmer, returns to such innocent times, assuredly delivering bang for buck but – first and foremost – respecting old-fashioned concepts like, y’know, character, emotion, storytelling…
Super 8’s creator is, of course, Jeffrey Jacob Abrams, or plain old JJ to the millions of people who think of him warmly after Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Cloverfield and Lost.
This is his “personal project”, much as E.T. was Steven Spielberg’s, who here co-produces.
Set in 1979, when JJ, aged 13, was holed up in his cluttered bedroom making models to blow up on film, Super 8 tells of movie-obsessed Charles (Riley Griffiths) and best friend Joe (Joel Courtney), the leaders of a group of pre-teen kids who run about town shooting a zombie epic on an Emuig Super 8 camera.
Sneaking from their beds to film a night scene at the local train station, they continue to roll as a US Air Force freight charges past (“Production values!”) and crashes explosively.
Then things get really weird. Generators and car engines burn out, power cables and microwaves disappear. The town’s dogs hightail it to neighbouring counties.
And the military roll in under the stern command of Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich), a man who dost protest too much when questioned by Deputy Lamb (Kyle Chandler), AKA Joe’s dad: “If you’re asking me if we had any dangerous property on board this train,” glowers Nelec, “I can assure you the answer is no.”
If Super 8 is JJ’s own childhood spliced with a rambunctious monster movie, it is inevitable it should look and feel like an early Spielberg picture, for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T., Poltergeist, Gremlins, The Goonies and Back To The Future shaped a generation.
The film’s overrun setting, a small Ohio town, population 11,200, is pure Spielburbia – acknowledged by the E.T.-doffing shot of the twinkling burg spread out below, a beacon to attract the trouble that’s arrived in the night.
The kids’ bedrooms, like Elliott’s, are jumbled dens, and the town’s rolling topography, all slopes and ridges, recalls E.T.’s famous bike chase while allowing Super 8’s climactic, panoramic action to play out at various vertical and horizontal depths without recourse to crane shots or focus pulls.
Like Spielberg, Abrams has an eye for awe, his deft orchestration of indelible images – a tank trundling through a children’s playground, a plot-pivotal landmark framed in the distance through a small hole in a bedroom wall – marking him as a born storyteller.
He’s no slouch when it comes to suspense either, and it’s this skill as much as the kids’ goofing that marks the film’s first half, when the creature remains cloaked, as the superior segment.
Standout sequence? A classic bit of shadow play involving a gas station, a teen attendant listening to Blondie’s ‘Heart Of Glass’ on his Walkman, a cop filling his cruiser to the plaintive ting-ting-ting of the gas pump, some rustling treetops and, finally, an out-of-focus attack.
If the monster-reveal to come and the increasingly close-up close-ups that follow never quite match the early frisson generated by shooting empty spaces filled with the viewers’ imagination, then it is, perhaps, inevitable.
JJ’s monster is a good ’un, perhaps too good given its 2011 CGI threatens to jar in a movie that’s not just set in 1979 but could, for the most part, have been made in 1979.
But it’s no match for the Alien Queen or The Thing. Or, indeed, the amorphous terrors of Lost and Cloverfield.
The kids, mind, are faultless. Unlike the silicon-soul LA brats who inhabit most modern movies (though Elle Fanning, terrific as the cool older girl who Joe and Charles moon over, is exactly that), this terrific troupe recall not just early Spielberg but ’80s favourites Stand By Me and The Monster Squad.
It’s there in the gap-toothed grins, fleshy frames, oversized spectacles and bowl haircuts, and it’s there also in the insouciant banter spiked with colourful lingo (“Holy shit, that’s mint!”; “Dude, that’s bitchin’!”; “This is insane!”).
Maybe the kids feel real because JJ had friends just like them, or maybe it’s because they’re borrowed from movies where they felt real the first time round, and are here presented with sincerity.
Whatever the reason, they’re a riot to hang out with, and their heartache – Joe’s mom has just died, all of them are outsiders – feels genuine, though it never wrenches like Elliott’s absent father or Gordie LaChance’s dead older brother.
Too much thick-throated emotion is stirred into the wondrous, mawkish finale.
The blend of sentiment and spectacle here evokes Spielberg at his worst as well as his best, and the film’s subtext is heavily underlined in case we missed it.
But even this bum note at the end of a too-frantic third act won’t stop Super 8 from being, hands down, the film of the summer.
Only a young Spielberg at the top of his game could beat it.
A monster mash-up of ’50s sci-fi, late-’70s / early ’80s event movie and autobiography, Super 8 doesn’t possess the top-to-bottom greatness of the films it’s modelled on but, in shooting for the stars, leaves 90% of modern blockbusters in the gutter. Mint.
Eric Ditzian From MTV:
From the Spielbergian nostalgia factor to the first-rate performances of a group of largely unknown young actors to the ultra-satisfying reveal of the monster, we’ve got plenty of reasons you should check out “Super 8″this weekend.
But we’re not alone in our full-throated support of director J.J. Abrams’ ode to ’70s-era adolescence and alien invasion flicks. Based on a wholly original idea (a true rarity in an era of iconic superheroes, wizards and alien bots) and with no A-list talent in front of the camera, “Super 8” has nonetheless been nabbing overwhelmingly positive reviews and is expected to earn around $35 million over the weekend.
While some critics have suggested the film’s ultimate mystery remains disappointing when finally revealed, far more have been raving about the flick’s throwback vibe, efficient storytelling, and satisfying emotional and cinematic similarity to movies like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Read on for a deep dive into “Super 8” reviews.
” “Super 8” centers on Joe (Joel Courtney), a middle-schooler who has lost his mom and is spending his summer helping his chum Charles (Riley Griffiths) make a zombie movie. Shooting surreptitiously one night at a train station, the kids witness a horrific accident that opens a mystery involving a science teacher, an Air Force investigation, Joe’s policeman dad (Kyle Chandler) and … something out there in the night. There are harum-scarum jokes aplenty, lots of Spielbergian camera work, a cute girl to woo (Elle Fanning), and some broken psyches in need of repair. Is it as powerful as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” or “E. T.”? Not quite, no. But it’s spirited and funny and deeply entertaining, a summer movie for kids who think like adults and adults who feel like kids.” — Shawn Levy, The Oregonian
“The pacing is superb, quick and agile without being frenzied, and the special effects are jaw-dropping. Abrams gets excellent performances from his young cast, not only from his leads — Elle Fanning, as the pretty girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and Joel Courtney, as a sensitive boy who has lost his mother — but from the supporting players. For example, Riley Griffiths tears ferociously into the role of the boy director, as a kind of eighth-grade Orson Welles. There are also two wounded fathers, well played: Kyle Chandler plays the town’s deputy for all he’s worth, and Ron Eldard, looking like a slimmed-down Gerard Depardieu, plays Fanning’s confused father.” — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
“There’s a thin line, though, between honoring what came before you and replicating it, and ‘Super 8’ occasionally wobbles over that line into predictability. Nor is Abrams quite sure what to make of his monster. Is it friend or foe? Can a movie split the difference and still hold on to our sympathies? Toward the end, you feel the filmmaking cutting corners, rushing past story points and shortchanging characters to get to the finale, which itself lacks the pop immensity of a movie like ‘Close Encounters’ even as it imitates it. ‘Super 8’ is a curious thing indeed: A good movie that makes you want to go home and re-watch a great one.” — Ty Burr, Boston Globe
“Just what and who the monster is, forms the central question of ‘Super 8.’ But despite Abrams’ best efforts to ratchet up the tension, the mystery never takes compelling hold, a weakness that becomes especially clear in the movie’s anti-climax of an ending. At that point, the already thin story gets wrapped up so neatly that viewers will scarcely have time to process its plot holes. (What were those little white boxes for, anyway?)” — Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
The Final Word
“How have we survived for so long on such a meager, high-cal, low-nutrition diet of processed summertime superhero sequels? ‘Super 8’ is an antidote to that emotional-vitamin deficiency. It’s also a great specimen of original storytelling grounded in a sophisticated respect for storytellers who have come before. Writer/director J.J. Abrams has described his movie as a love letter to the kind of Super 8 monsters-and-chases stuff he made as a boy, which were influenced by the ‘Raiders’/ ‘Close Encounters’ sagas of Steven Spielberg, who himself made 8mm monsters-and-chases stuff as a boy. (Spielberg is a ‘Super 8 producer.’) The loop works beautifully.” — Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly