Super 8: A Review

E.T. meets The Goonies

Twitter abounds with satisfied movie-goers comparing Super 8 to either E.T. or The Goonies, or both. It may be a simplistic and obvious comparison, but a good one nonetheless for this summer’s hit alien thriller. And while I like E.T. and Goonies, I must say that I really, really like Super 8.

Super 8 is written and directed by J. J. Abrams, who brought us the alien thriller Cloverfield, and it is produced by Steven Spielberg, who incidentally wrote The Goonies and directed E. T. Spielberg also has a certain fascination with aliens, just check his filmography. But don’t let their fascination with aliens fool you, this movie transcends stereotypes. Together, Abrams and Spielberg brought some serious magic to the silver screen with this movie.

Great Themes

If you want to be a discerning movie watcher, you must realize a movie is never about its subject matter. While kids and an alien are the main characters, this movie is neither about kids nor aliens. It’s a movie about primarily about maturity, healing, and forgiveness. It also has sub-themes on death/suffering, friendship, leadership, and fatherhood. I think the storyline and plot make this a great film worth seeing. Even with the few (well-done) scary parts, its overall a happy, feel-good movie. In fact, it is one of a few movies that will allow you to experience a broad spectrum of emotions, from sorrow to laughter, fun to intensity. Also, while coming off as a sort of coming-of-age flick, you don’t find clichéd encounters with the adult world of sex, alcohol and drugs. While drug use is shown and alcohol abuse sets up a major component of the plot, both are frowned upon and portrayed negatively. Moreover, the transformation of the protagonist from despondency, dependency and adolescence into a strong, mature leader results in a beautiful resolution of the whole movie. He makes everyone around him better. Redemption reigns supreme (a very Christian idea!).

I hope that the basic themes I just presented in this paragraph drive you to watch this movie (again as necessary!).

To understand more on how characters, themes, redemption and resolution make a movie great, consider reading Brian Godawa’s Hollywood Wordlviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment, particularly chapter 3.

Great Young Actors

Our protagonist is Joe Lamb, played by the young Joel Courtney. The movie first reveals Joe as a dejected boy who just lost his mother. There are questions concerning how his father Jack, played by Kyle Chandler, will be able to step up to the plate after the loss of his wife and care for his son. Joe is a loyal friend/sidekick to his buddy Charles, played by Riley Griffiths. Charles is a charismatic, sometimes overpowering character, directing a home-made movie (hence the title “Super 8”, as in 8mm). He brings excitement to every scene and helps make this movie “Mint!”. The leading lady is Alice Dainard, played by Elle Fanning, an accomplished actress at the age of 13. She not only steals the show in Charles zombie-thriller, but the scene where she cries over the death of Joe’s mom, wishing instead her own father had died, and then Joe bringing her back to the ideal of love and forgiveness, its one of the best dialogues between young actors your could imagine; fittingly, this scene was the climax of the plot–the remainder of the movie was this scenes’ resolution (or dénouement).

It’s the quality of the actors and the appropriateness of the script that make Super 8 neither E.T. nor The Goonies, though they were set in approximately the same time period. These young men and women can act, well! It definitely wasn’t the quality of the acting that won us over with the movies of yesteryear. The children and teenagers portrayed in those earlier movies were simple, whiny, clichéd, and demonstrated little character development through the progression of the plot. What they did show was at best demonstrated through visualized symbolism. In Super 8, there is a realism to the youths. There is fun and life. They demonstrate real emotion and show character qualities that adults would respect and find worthy of emulation.

Nostalgic Setting

This movie is set in 1979 in small town. I think the setting is appropriate and adds something to the movie. This way, they have been able to avoid over-politicizing the movie for current events. The military are not portrayed positively in the movie, but not in the way you think. The setting helps that. The setting also helps the film feel homey. You feel like these characters could easily be your neighbors. The town hall meetings and local sheriffs all give it a small town, intimate feel that draws the audience in. The strategic use of sound (and silence) and a beautiful soundtrack add to this effect.

I could go on and on about this movie. Don’t let the alien thriller genre are you away from seeing Super 8. (does anyone else think that the terror caused by the alien is symbolic of the tyranny and rage of fear and hatred caused by grief?) Genre is only one aspect of any movie and it can only aid or detract from what the movie does in its presentation. This movie is certainly aided by the genre and seeing this movie leave you with a smile.

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