'Super 8' Review By Bryan Yentz
... Here, the properly conveyed drama pushes the uber lens-flared science fiction into a corner of standard imitation--not emulation...
While making a "horrific" zombie film, a band of children happen to witness a massive, eye-catching train crash--all on their Super 8 camera (there's the title!). Following such a traumatic incident, the military get involved, weird electrical shenanigans begin occurring, and a monstrous, multi-armed creature begins wreaking havoc. Through a culmination of events, the children discover that they're one of the few who actually understand the enemy they're up against as well as a means to possibly besting it.
If there's one aspect of the film that forced my general enthusiasm from a top-tier of enjoyment to that of a low-grade "meh", it's that the science-fictional front of such an endeavor as this feels rather lightweight. All in all, SUPER 8 is equivalent to a kitchen stew comprised of meaty portions like STAND BY ME, INVADERS FROM MARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (without the utter boredom), E.T., THE GATE. . . Well, pretty much EVERY fantastical film from yesteryear. Sadly, while Abrams has perfectly recaptured the feeling and look of such classics, he's failed to imbue it with anything his own. For one, the creature itself, which we FINALLY get to see in the last five minutes, is hidden for far too long. By the time viewers are finally graced with a view of its admittedly cool design--it's all over. Even at that, the only clear visual offered is that of its face. Before this, only partial glimpses of the beast are given via dull set-pieces like a tipped-over bus. During every brief, no-show encounter with the creature, nothing outstanding occurs. Every scene feels the same as no true ingenuity has been applied in making each and every sequence of action original. What's worse is when said behemoth is finally revealed--it isn't given a chance to do a damn thing but look endearingly at a child in its vice-like grip. While building intensity through an unseen entity is one thing--we watch creature-features for the sake of, well, the creatures! Abrams and co. were clever in NOT displaying the alien during the atrocious previews (yeah, they were pretty terrible) released earlier this year, but they shot themselves in the feet by keeping it on such a close, cliché-ridden leash.
Now, while that element of the film never lifted above nostalgia, SUPER 8 still delivered an impeccably acted coming-of-age story. From the dramatic aspects to that of the comedic filming of their zombie film (which is actually one of the best parts of the film--wait through the credits), each young actor displays an ability for performance well-beyond their age. It feels like a story of friendship, loss and understanding because the excellent acting sells it as such. By focusing on relatively no-name child actors instead of the typically obnoxious choices like that of a Bieber, Abrams once again invokes more forgotten qualities of cinema--ones that focused on a subject who would actually fit a role; not be chosen because they were the recent, "hot new thing" or happened to perform on the Mickey Mouse Club.
As with many a narrative which tries to tell two stories at one time, balance between the two is rarely attained; one or the other always manages more attention than the other. Here, the properly conveyed drama pushes the uber lens-flared science fiction into a corner of standard imitation--not emulation. There's a helluva lot of fun to be had with SUPER 8 as it brings to mind such an amazing time of cinema now long past, but once the credits roll and the excellent short film plays, the entire experience feels rather hollow.