Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Lord knows we must be careful in these next few paragraphs and not give away the carefully guarded secret of the J.J. Abrams directed, Steven Spielberg produced potential summer blockbuster ‘Super 8’. I don’t know why it’s such a secret because after seeing this movie, a very entertaining movie mind you, it doesn’t seem like it’s a secret hardly worth all that effort. Seeing dead people and Kaiser Sose… those are secrets worth protecting, not this.

The year is 1980 and we’re hanging out in Small Town Ohio. Young Joe (Joel Courtney) is attempting to come to grips with the recent tragic death of his mother, with this process made all the more difficult due to of his Sheriff Deputy father Jackson (Kyle Chandler) and his inability to connect to his son in any kind of way.

One thing Joe does have, being the creative and imaginative kid that he is, is his good friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) and the zombie movie Charles is directing on his little Super 8 film camera. Better still is that Charles has somehow convinced the prettiest girl in the eighth grade, Alice (Elle Fanning), to be in his movie. Joe really likes Alice. I mean… a lot. There is a small issue between these kids in that Alice’s old man Louis (Ron Eldard) and Joe’s old man hate each other. A lot.

So late one evening these kids are shooting this movie by the train tracks, and if you’ve seen the trailer, you know that the train derails and everything goes straight to explosive hell. That Nic Cage movie ‘Knowing’ previously held the record for the best cinematic train crash on record, but this one was better. As it turns out the destruction of that train was the good news, the bad news is that there was something on that train and whatever it was, it’s running around Small Town Ohio right now causing a ruckus. Note to self: When observing running dogs, just follow them.

Regardless, everything seems to be okay. The kids still have a movie to shoot and the Air Force, led by smarmy Air Force Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich), is in town to clean up the mess. However Jackson the deputy is convinced that the Air Force isn’t telling the whole story, particularly when the weird stuff starts happening like the power drains, the missing people and the missing microwaves, so he is convinced that they are hiding something. Guess what, he’s right!

Here’s the important thing though. Alice is one of the missing people and young Joe feels the need to save her. Joe knows exactly what’s going on, he knows what the Air Force is trying to cover up, he knows what’s running around his town, he knows why there’s a mini-Kandahar styled firefight going on in the middle of his town and he knows where he needs to go to potentially free Alice, who could very well be dead. As you can see, Joe likes Alice. A lot. I hate to see what Joe would be doing if Alice had actually kissed him or something. Above and beyond this kid is going. When the time comes… because now is obviously not the time for these kids… but when the time comes, Alice owes Joe.

Super producer J.J. Abrams, the Film Director, has made two movies, ‘Mission Impossible III’ and the ‘Star Trek’ reboot, and I loved both of those movies so J.J. is my guy. I didn’t love ‘Super 8’, but I did enjoy it however. The thing is ‘Super 8’ felt more like the kind of movie that Steven Spielberg would’ve made, and not like a movie that J.J. Abrams would craft with the problem being that J.J. Abrams obviously isn’t Steven Spielberg, and vice versa. Nonetheless, because of the breakneck pace of this film, because the mystery of whatever is going on in this town being hidden so well with only bits and pieces leaked out throughout the running time of this movie, despite my thoughts of the mystery being a little unnecessary, and also due to the earnest and solid performances of the young cast that dominates this movie, it would be difficult for anybody not to have at a least a little bit of a good time watching ‘Super 8’. It’s a big time production that makes full use of the extra large screen that we were sitting in front of and made full use of the extra large speakers that were surrounding us. And it wasn’t post produced into 3D. Thank goodness for small favors.

It is when the movie travels into Spielberg territory, that being the emotional stuff inserted within whatever chaotic situation that we are thrust into, where it just doesn’t fare as well. The lynchpin of this, the relationship between Joe and his father, simply wasn’t developed well enough and as such lacked the emotional impact to make it as effective as it needed to be. Also, despite the Spielberg pedigree and despite the little kids running around doing mischievous little kid type stuff, don’t be drawn into thinking that this is a family type of movie. This is a pretty hard PG-13 considering the violence, profanity and drug usage, so keep that in mind when choosing to watch this or ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ with your kids.

Since I would’ve been the same age as these kids when this movie was taking place, you have to love the time period with the cool music, the unfortunate hair, and remembering that this was a time where you could smoke a cigarette anywhere you damn well pleased. I could almost see myself there. That is if there were any minorities in Small Town Ohio in 1980. I don’t recall seeing any Asians, Hispanics, Black People, Eastern Indians, Sri Lankans… even in the crowd shots when they rounding people up for reasons we can’t tell you. There was the Biology Teacher (Glynn Turman) but telling you about him might be spoilage and you know we won’t do that. There were some minority soldiers in Small Town Ohio, but uh… they were not good people. Do you know what happens to bad people in a movie like this?

All that aside, ‘Super 8’ set out and accomplished what I believe was its main task, with this task being entertainment at a high level. It’s exciting, it’s funny and the young actors did a very good job. I’m still not sold on the whole mystery thing, but ‘Super 8’ was a good time to be had at the show.

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