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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Super 8 (2011)



As a rule, there aren’t many big budget movies that I get too excited about or even feel like I should cover for the horror dude blog. Super 8 is an exception to that rule. It has some science fiction elements and we get a monster that eats people! I never knew we were so crunchy. Yeah, this one belongs here.

To establish the characters, we see that the lead, a boy named Joe Lamb, has just lost his mother in a terrible accident. We are also introduced to his motley group of friends that say inappropriate things on accident. We also meet a man that comes to the funeral only to be tossed out and arrested by Joe’s father who is a local deputy. We later find out Joe’s mother was covering the man’s shift when she was killed so his dad has some issues with him.

Four months later school lets out for summer and the boys start to shoot their own zombie movie on, you guessed it, Super 8. Recruited into the cast is a young lady named Alice who Joe has a crush on. Unfortunately, she is the daughter of the man who was tossed from the funeral, which complicates things with both of their fathers. The crew are shooting at night when a train crash happens right in front of them. Actually, it happens all around them as they are dodging debris while the cars disintegrate around them. It was no accident though because Joe watched a truck drive down the tracks causing the derailment. What they don’t realize until reviewing the film later is that something crawled out of the wreck and is now prowling around their small-town snacking on people and stealing car engines. To cover things up the military starts a fire and evacuates the town. But the boys head back home when they find out that Alice was taken by the creature. Lots of running and screaming ensues as they try to escape both monster and military, who is now in full on combat mode.

This movie works on a couple of levels for me. First is the nostalgia that it provokes. Between the toys, music, models, and even the old Super 8 camera this reminds me of my childhood. I guess I’m just the right age since in nineteen seventy-nine, when the movie is set, I would have been the same age as the characters. Now that can be a double-edged sword. I’m ready to call bullshit at the first mistake when a filmmaker tries to recapture a point in time, especially so of one that I experienced. But I have to say they nail it. Even the posters and things just sitting on shelves are spot on. That was impressive and a nice trip down memory lane for this old guy.

Okay I had to pick the Lens Flare picture...
The movie has a decent adult cast of actors, but really relies on the kids to carry the movie. Here they chose a very good group of young actors and actresses to play the various kids in the movie. There isn’t a weak link in the batch, which is good because they are asked to do a lot. From awkward attempts and preteen romance to screaming in terror as a monster who just ate a guy is chasing them, they are believable throughout.

The story is simple, but solidly written. It has a predictable ending and can be shmaltzy at times, but I’m okay with it. Not every monster movie needs to break new ground or be brutal and traumatizing to be a good time. Super 8 is the kind of movie that could be a bet scary for the small ones but is an excellent choice for kids around the age of the characters in the movie. The one thing that I found annoying is a single “F” bomb that is dropped. Not only is it not needed but it feels a bit forced in the scene. That is my only complaint.

Super 8 is a monster movie so we need to talk creature here. Everything is CGI, from alien to train wreck. But it is done really well and where the CGI meets actual props/sets is blended so seamlessly that it is barely noticeable. This helps make the digital work seem more natural and not as obvious. The bus crash is a prime example of this. The creature is CGI, but the bus is a real set. I dare you to go back and watch the sequence and tell me where the creature ends and set begins. Even when it is just the creature and all CGI on screen it looks good. There is a neat gag when it’s attitude towards the humans changes a bit and something interesting happens with its eyes. This is subtle and really important to the scene and what happens next. That kind of attention to detail is what makes the difference between well done and bad digital effects work.

This is an excellent throwback to the days when movies for kids were sophisticated and fun rather than the dumbed down stuff we get now. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it was produced by Steven Spielberg and directed/written by J.J. Abrams. If you have been under a rock for the last five years and don’t know about Super 8 go watch it. Not kidding stop reading this, turn off your computer and go rent it!


© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

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