’80s Nostalgia and Adventure meets 21st Century Monsters

Super 8 (12A)
Directed by Zack Snyder

From the director of Cloverfield, Lost and the Star Trek remake comes another monster-adventure-alien-y genred movie, this time in the form of the anticipated Super 8. Following the adventures of young hero Joe Lamb and his friends, in the midst of making their own ‘Super 8’ camera directed zombie film, when they find themselves plunged into the middle of impressive train crashes and explosions, government cover-up, and of course, a rampant monster on the loose. Harking back to the glory adventure days of films of the ‘80s, the film follows the same giddy adventurous delights of watching those Spielberg films from our childhood involving aliens, treasure-hunting and childhood friends (think E.T, The Goonies and Close Encounters). Yet Abrams tries to sculpt this out with more than just the escapades of these young tweens: adding emotional background drama and presenting the bonds of childhood friendship in a way that makes us want to put down our iPads, touch-screen phones and Xboxes and instead reach for our bikes and just go looking for healthy, old-fashioned adventure in the outskirts of town.

There are all sorts of plot devices which weave into the story here, Joe’s emotional recovery from the death if his mother, his resulting strained relationship with his father, his friendships with the other young boys, his budding romance with Alice (played by an admirable Elle Fanning), and of course, the fact that both alien-monster AND the government are out to get them.
So can this be seen as a type of coming of age drama? It could be argued that this adventure-style approach is a rite of passage, not just for the young characters in the film, but for us as viewers, re-introducing us to something we all watched as youngsters back in the pre-digital-age days when there were only four television channels and we all remembered watching the same show on the same channel.
Complete with amiable humour (“Stop talking about production value, the Air Force is going to kill us!”) and jump-in-your-seat monster moments, the film endeavours to never let the focus leave the youngsters of the films, leaving us rooting for the good guys and their loveable tricks.

There are a few downsides to the genre of this movie, however; Abrams can be said to rely a little too much on the style of a Boy’s Own adventure that we all know and loved from the ‘80s. It is no accident that main character Joe looks a teensy-weensy eerie bit too like Elliot from E.T – we get that the film tries to recreate the Spielberg magic and excitement – and yet it all begins to feel a little, at times, too far-fetched and video game-ish a narrative amongst the sophisticated special effects and complicated storylines of today’s films. Although Abrams does try to merge the two generations of eighties genre and twenty-first century graphics, this begins to feels a little anachronistic at times, making the film feel less genuine.

Another criticism is that there does not feel like there is enough of a back story for the monster – it just simply appears in the boys’ lives in a way that seems half-heartedly explained. Admittedly the film is not about the alien-monster in its entirety, yet this leaves us with the feeling that there is no no REAL sense of mystery, Abrams tries to generate this mystery by not letting us get a good look at the monster, so that we are left in suspense as to *what* could possibly be behind the massive scale government cover-up in Super 8, yet this is not much of a mystery to us, and you can see where his directing style is similar to his previous films like Cloverfield, which follows a similar pattern of obscure flashes of monster’s feet and cameras panning away to the sky.

However, there is brilliant acting from all sides; the main character may look like a dimpled Elliot escaped from an E.T sci-fi convention, yet this is no way means that his acting ability is undermined. The appeal of Super 8 lies in its pure joy in watching boys being boys, and being a youngster, exploring the outside world and its dangers, with the emotions and feelings as acted by the characters feeling quite genuine, even if the concept of the story does not resound as solidly. Despite the ambiguity of the ‘mystery’ behind the film, this is still a fair watch, we may not completely feel as if we have been transported to those magical living-room days of watching holiday films of our childhood, but it does comes pretty close when we watch these young adventurers.

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