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Super 8 (2011)

Reviews are all about asking yourself questions and then answering them. So, what do I think about Super 8? It’s one of the better coming-of-age stories made over the last few years but, as science fiction, it’s profoundly silly. Does that silliness mean the film is a failure? To answer this, we have to walk down several roads, starting with The Goonies made back in 1985 by Richard Donner (with some help from Steven Spielberg). There’s a kind of tradition of making films about groups of kids in small-town-America who have adventures. In The Goonies, this involves an underground search for lost treasure in a scaled-down version of Indiana Jones. Well, Super 8 is a scaled-up version of E.T. (directed by Spielberg) in which Earth children help an alien child — bambino-a-bambino. This time, it’s an adult alien, it prefers to live underground, and it’s plenty mad with Earthlings, but the principle is the same even though CGI gives us way more crashes and explosions than could ever have been imagined, let alone shown, back in the 1980s.

Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney feeling the action in front of the camera could be better


So as far as the kids are concerned, they’re making a zombie film. What they need is great production values on a shoestring, so half the fun of the opening sequences, is watching their efforts to create something out of nothing. Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb is nicely balanced between introversion and extroversion. He’s trying to come to terms with the death of his mother in the local steel mill. He loves the fine work of making models and, with an interest in monsters, he’s ideal as the make-up artist and SFX model builder for the film. The rest of the team is Ryan Lee as Cary who just loves to blow stuff up and set fires, Riley Griffiths as Charles who writes and directs the film, Gabriel Basso as Martin, the leading man, and Zach Mills as Preston the gofer and extra. Recruited as the necessary element of romance — all good zombie films need a loving couple at risk of being food for the undead — Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard brings a method-acting approach to this small-town blockbuster.


Joe’s father, the deputy sheriff, is also having serious emotional troubles following the death of his wife and has abandoned his son to lose himself in work. Kyle Chandler is excellent, underplaying his grief and trying to remember why he signed up for law enforcement, particularly when Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard) is around. Dainard is struggling with guilt. He was too drunk to go into work. Mrs Lamb replaced him and was killed in the accident.

Red eyes all round from Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso and Zach Mills


From this, you will understand this film has all the right ingredients and, from start to finish, there’s a real sense of onscreen chemistry between the Rat Pack, their families and the community at large. By the end, Joe has become a young adult. More importantly, he’s been accepted by his father. Alice and her father have also made an emotional journey. Even Lamb and Dainard senior have reconciled. This just leaves their town as a smoking ruin. And this is where all the silliness comes in. It seems all dysfunctional families need to repair their relationships is train wrecks, loud explosions, and a good mauling by an alien.


Frankly, this collaboration between J J Abrams and Spielberg has only produced a louder Spielberg film. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Spielberg has a good eye for a story and knows what will collect the dollars at the box office. Abrams is credited with the script, but he was obviously working to a brief. At every possible point where he could have shown intelligence and developed science fiction ideas with some degree of logic, he fails. In fact, he fails miserably, presumably reined in by Spielberg. Or perhaps this really is Abrams writing SF for the masses, and dumbing everything down so that kids watching it will “get it”.

Kyle Chandler as Jackson Lamb escaping military custody and hurrying off to find his son


I will not bother to go through and point out all the stupidity. Frankly, I gave up after a while and just prayed for it all to be over as quickly as possible. Fortunately, at 112 minutes we only have to live through three-quarters of an hour with our intelligence being insulted. Let’s just say we have a top-secret train carrying our alien and its lego kit from Base 51 to Base 29.7. Our alien is in telepathic communication with a scientist who tried to help it back at Base 51. To release the alien, the mad scientist drives his truck in front of the train and forces it to swerve off the track. At this point, the alien is able to bust out of the container in which it is being contained and escapes into the woods. So, with the combined brain power of two cvilisations, the best they can devise as an escape plan is attempted suicide by the Earthling. I wonder whether the alien could have broken out earlier. It seems strong enough, along with apparently being impervious to bullets. It baffles me how the military managed to contain it for so long in Base 51. Anyway, it’s all down hill from this point as the alien sets about building himself a space craft out of car engines and washing machine spares. Fortunately, instead of taking the lego kit as far away as possible the air force brings it into town. These military people are so kind and thoughtful.


Summing up, Super 8 is a good, if overly sentimental, coming-of-age film staring Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning with strong support from Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard. There’s nothing even remotely scary about it, and the special effects are loud and visually impressive. The destruction of the train is hilariously over-the-top demonstrating the scientific principle that what goes up, must come down (sooner or later). I suspect your kids will love it. The remainder of the film is torture for those who want directors to make an attempt at a believable story. Yes we are starting off with an alien so some suspension of disbelief is required. That does not justify brainlessness on this epic scale.


  1. JJ Abrams
    June 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    why don’t you just relax and enjoy the movie dude?

    • June 11, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      So what you suggest is that, no matter what the stimulus, whether entertainment, food, work, sport, etc, even the stuff you find boring or inedible becomes enjoyable if only you relax. Well that’s not very sensible. If I start reading a book, watching a movie or eating a meal, I only relax and enjoy “it” if I like “it”. Anything else is torture. Frankly, being a science fiction fan, watching Super 8 is torture of the most cruel kind and only the form of relaxation that renders me unconscious would enable me to get through it without feeling ill

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