The Retroist Review of Super 8

I went through a lot of trouble to avoid all info and news about Super 8. When you spend a lot of time on the internet, this can be challenging, when you happen to do a Nostalgia blog and podcast, it is work. But I am proud to say, outside of the poster and the trailer, I knew nothing about Super 8 before getting the opportunity to see it today.

I wanted to see it on Friday or even Saturday, I just could not get to the theater, but I am pleased to say that today I pulled the trigger and I am happy I finally saw it and even happier I avoided everything about the film beforehand. It has twists and turns and lots of those things could easily be spoiled. Because of this I am going to give my recommendation about the film before I finish the review. So that if you are foolish enough to value my opinion, you will know what I think without being exposed to spoilers.

Do see this movie! it is totally mint! If you like nostalgia (and your probably do if you are reading this), this movie is a well made feast for the retroist in all of us.

Now what follows is spoilers. So turn back if you have no interest (or too much interest?)

The film starts during the wake of an industrial accident in the late 1970s, where we learn the main character’s mother was killed in some horrible industrial accident. The main character, Joe Lamb, is played by Joel Courtney, who throughout the film maintains an understated and evolving character while not coming across as distant or quirky. Joe is a kid with geek cred, he does make-up on his friend’s zombie film, builds models late at night while listening to the radio. In other words, for me, it was very hard not to like this character. Joe also a distant father and a charming group of friends who are putting together a zombie film using 8mm film equipment. The making of the zombie film is how the movie moves forward. (Spoiler: make sure to stay for the credits to see the actual film).

This is a good opportunity to include the official film synopsis which sums things up pretty well:

Set in 1979 Ohio, a group of six young children use a Super 8 camera to make their own zombie movie. One night while filming near a remote stretch of railroad tracks, the children witness a truck collide with an oncoming train leading to a catastrophic derailment. Amidst the fire and destruction, something inhuman emerges.

So… while making their zombie flick, an accident happens on a train they are filming near, that unleashes an alien that has been imprisoned and mistreated by the government and wants to get home (more on that in a second). What follows is a horror/adventure (with a dash of innocent romance) that is as strong an homage to the 1970s/1980s Steven Spielberg as I have ever seen. Does it capture all of the magic of Spielberg? Not exactly and the film did leave me wanting in some departments, but overall it blew my mind. Let’s cut straight to the “why”.

This movie was made for me?
I was sitting outside the theater afterwards with a mother who had taken her son to see the film. He thought it was okay. She was enthusiastic. Why? She was about my age and grew up in this time period, I would hope that lots of the elements in this film are universal, but some elements seem so specific to the era (including some gags), that I imagine some of those things went right over her son’s head. When Spielberg made his movies, he made it contemporary (for the time), it was just so well done that it appealed to everyone. I am happy that Abrams did this film in the late 1970s, but I wonder if he missed the opportunity to make the next Goonies or E.T.

Which is really where I wanted to get to in a hurry.

Yeah I knew E.T. before Elliot -- Before it was cool

Is Super 8 a prequel to E.T??
The movie reveals stuff pretty quickly about the alien and his relationship with the government who found him. You hear it from the scientist who causes the train accident while trying to free the alien. Because of what he said, for the first 40% of the movie I kept thinking about what the scientist said. Basically that the government was doing bad things to this alien. It seems that they had warped it in some way and at that moment, before I saw the alien in any real way, I thought, “Is this movie a prequel to E.T?”

Then I got a look at the alien from a distance and I thought, no way.

Then I got a look at the alien up close and I thought. Holy cow, this could be a prequel to E.T. Those eyes, that face, this poor alien definitely has E.T. qualities. Even his makeshift tinkering in his subterranean layer screamed E.T. Could the E.T race adapt in a horrible way to horrible conditions? He seemed so fragile.

Now I know nothing of the intentions of Abrams or Spielberg and I have not seen what others are saying on the web, and perhaps I am reading too much into the film, but I don’t care! That thing is related to E.T. If I had a still of this alien up close, I would post it here to try and illustrate my point, but you see it and tell me I am wrong (I probably am — I just love E.T.)

Okay, I got that off my chest now onto my biggest problem with the film.

A Lot O’ Plot
The main thing I had a problem with the film is that it felt overly ambitious. It tried to squeeze so much character, so much plot and so much clever nostalgia onto the screen at once that it made some parts feel unnecessary. So…

  • Is this a story about friends? Does each one need to show off some skill before peeling off from the group?
  • Is this a story about an estranged father and son?
  • Is this a story of innocent budding romance?
  • Is this a monster movie?
  • Is this a story about how evil the government can be and how we should be paranoid?
  • Is this a story about aliens?
  • Is this a story about forgiveness?
  • Is this a story about growing up?
  • Is this a movie with ample lens flares?

What is great about Super 8 and also what makes it hard to digest at times is that it is all this and more. It has a little something for everyone, the problem is when you have a little something for everyone, you lose focus. I personally would have liked a few plotlines like the father/son and father/daughter estrangement to be implied, so that they could have focused more on the monster plotline or the idea of friends outgrowing each other.

I could probably go on for days about the movie, as it is I am just spewing information out faster than I can digest it. In a nutshell, this is a film that seems tailor-made for my lifestyle and entertainment needs and I will be analyzing and enjoying it for years to come. It is not a perfect film for everyone, but for me now, not younger me, this film is a home run. The perfect popcorn accompanied treat on a balmy summer evening.

Outside of the story and directing, it is well acted with standout performance by a young talented cast (in a remarkable twist everyone of them is likable) and even if it is not a prequel to E.T. (which it is) it is worth seeing twice (I already have plans to see it again this week – so be ready for me to flip flop on the E.T. thing later this week).

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Garry Vander Voort

Editor/Podcaster at Retroist
The Retroist is like a BBQ on a bun without the bones. You're only human daddy. Chomp!
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5 thoughts on “The Retroist Review of Super 8

  1. Whoa, thanks for the spoiler alert! I was just scrolling through and caught the first sentence and was like, “FRICK!!!”

    Haven’t seen it yet!

  2. Sorry about that Justin. I hoped it would not jump out on anyone. I originally had a much bigger font and a lot more exclamation points.

  3. Man, this was a fun movie! I don’t see the ET resemblence but it’s a neat idea! This movie really made me feel like a kid again and had me wanting to go on my own adventure with a group of friends. I also agree with there being too much plot but it’s OK, the movie was a blast!!!

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