Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Produced by: Steven Spielberg; J. J. Abrams; Bryan Burk
Written by: J. J. Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney; Elle Fanning; Kyle Chandler
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cinematography: Larry Fong
Release date(s): June 10, 2011
Running time: 112 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $50 million
At the first glance, Super 8, written and directed by JJ Abrams (Star Trek, and creator of TV’s Lost, Fringe) and produced by Steven Spielberg (you know him!), looks like a Steven Spielberg film from the late-70s and early 80s (with the unhealthy obsession with alien creatures landing in the US soil as one of its central set-pieces.).
Look closely, and you’d realise that there are several different films going on at the same time — a disaster movie (a cargo train blows up dominating the screen for more than five minutes in one of the early scenes), a Michael Bay film (incessant gunfire rages on in the background while the young protagonists do their own things), E.T., and all the other alien-contact movies (which end with the creature leaving the earth on a spaceship), creature films (with a nod to the Korean blockbuster The Host, especially in depicting the place where the creature lives; and nods to District 9 as well), adolescent drama (My Girl and its cousins; Famous Five), and family films set in American suburbia in the innocent days of the 1970s.
Super 8 is a compulsive watch, especially the first half, with the children turning up a terrific performance, including Elle Fanning, who has turned out to be an actor to watch out for since the days of Babel, and the recent Sofia Coppola film Somewhere. Then things go haywire, with all those different movie plots converging, vying for attention, seeking thrills and a happy ending.
Twelve-year-old Joe Lamb’s mother is dead and his sad, depressive father, a deputy sheriff, is drifting away. It’s summer and he is helping his friend Charles make a zombie movie in a Super 8 camera for a local film festival. The young film crew is an excitable lot, and they are quite good. They sneak out to an abandoned railway station in the middle of the night to shoot. Oh, there is a girl too, Alice, older than Joe, whose father has some connection with his mother’s death, and he flips for her, oh, so touching, and then something happens.
A train derails, revealing a lot of cases containing mysterious objects. Was the train derailed on purpose? They meet a high school teacher who threatens to kill them if they reveal about the accident to anyone. The next morning, mysterious things start happening in the small Ohio county. All the dogs go missing, so are household appliances, and a handful of humans, including the town’s sheriff. Then we see an ominous presence in the town, and it is confirmed when the Army troops down, effectively taking over the town without telling the townsfolk what was going on, as the wont of the military during a secret mission.
The boys, meanwhile, continue to make their film against the backdrop of the mayhem; great production value, says Charles. But, like Joe, Alice has also problems with her father. As Alice and Joe get cosy, she has a fight with her father and oh yes, she is abducted and taken to a rabbit hole. Then the boys find the image of a monster in one of the reels they had shot, and now, Joe must go all out to save Alice, even if it means facing the monster and understanding it. So, we head for showdown and the final flight.
Super 8 is not exactly a monster movie, though there is a monster at it’s centre. The monster is introduced in synecdoche, in parts, as a vicious beastie, half octopus, half spider, half Transformers robot (the face at least), till we learn his predicament, in bits and pieces. He is not a benevolent ET, neither is he a malevolent decepticon. He has one brief confrontation with the brave, young hero, before it’s time for him to go home. Why do aliens leave at the precise moment?
Anyway, we learn that the alien had crash-landed on earth in the 1960s. He is an intelligence creatures who just wanted to go home. But the military decided to experiment on him, except for one scientist, Dr Woodward, the high school teacher. The creature touches him and they form a psychic bond, and now, after so many years, Dr Woodward orchestrates the train wreck to send the poor alien home.