A few years ago, director JJ Abrams (hot off of Lost (TV)) made a “secret” movie. Shot with a hand-held video camera, that film, Cloverfield (2008) turned out to refresh the “home video” monster movie that hadn’t been seen since The Blair Witch Project, and it ended up spawning quite a few imitators (one of the better ones was Quarantine (2008)).
Now that the “home video” monster movie idea has gotten old once again, however, seeing the trailer for JJ Abrams new film, Super 8 didn’t exactly get us excited. Instead, it looked like JJ was rehashing the Cloverfield (2008) theme – and this time, we weren’t interested.
Still, after hearing good things about the film during it’s theatrical run – and adding in the fact we liked the films (Mission: Impossible III (2006), Star Trek (2009)) JJ had done since Cloverfield (2008), we decided to give Super 8 a shot on DVD. Would it really just be a Cloverfield (2008) rehash, or did JJ Abrams really have something new up his sleeve?
Once again, JJ uses lesser known actors to take up the mantle in Super 8. In fact, Kyle Chandler is the most recognizable of the group, and most viewers probably won’t even be able to figure out where they’ve seen him before (probably in TV show “Friday Night Lights”). The rest of the cast is largely unrecognizable, although one of them has a familiar last name (Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota Fanning).
Still, everyone manages to play their parts well, especially Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney, who are at the epicenter of Super 8. As JJ usually does, he lets enough out about the characters to get viewers intrigued, then through the course of the film, manages to fill out their backgrounds, all while not letting the intensity fall by the wayside. The budding friendship between Joel and Elle really keeps the viewers hooked into the film, making the monster movie portion that much more exciting.
Thankfully, the film isn’t actually shot with a hand-held video camera – instead, that’s just a focus for the film. As a group of young friends shoot a zombie movie for a horror film festival, they witness some unusual events – but, thankfully, the viewer is able to see those events in typical movie fashion, rather than having to deal with the jerky sporadic bumpiness of the hand-held camera view from Cloverfield (2008).
The special effects are right on the money, and once the action starts (including a train crash that makes the epic crash from The Fugitive (1993) seem minor by comparison), the effects never allow the viewer to step away from the action – instead, they seamlessly integrate into the film, making for a richer viewing experience.
While JJ may have visited the monster movie with Cloverfield (2008), he manages to make Super 8 a completely different film, right down to it’s surprisingly sentimental ending. As usual, JJ is able to hook us from the start and build his characters into figures that viewers will grow attached to, making their moments of peril all the more intense.
Some impressive special effects, an unusual twist on the monster movie flick, and memorable characters fleshed out by both the actors and the director, all help to make Super 8 a monster movie flick with more heart – and more appeal – than we’re used to seeing in the genre…and that’s anything but a bad thing.
One note: a lot of viewers over on IMDb have compared Super 8 to Spielberg’s classic E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and honestly, I don’t see the connection at all. That film is all about an alien that befriends a young boy and the adventures they have together. Super 8 may have certain elements of that, but it’s mostly about the budding friendship between a young girl and a young boy, even while the boy deals with the painful loss of his mother. The alien aspect is really more of a backdrop, not the main story, and those who are comparing it to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) are kind of missing the point.