Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Flicker Between the Frames - Super 8

Written by: Kristian DePue

J.J. Abrams’ film, Super 8 has been available on DVD for well over a month now. Anyone who had any interest in seeing the movie has probably already seen it. If you haven’t seen it yet, chances are, at this point, you’re not going to…unless you read this and are somehow persuaded by my opinion.

In the summer of 1979, in a small town in Ohio, a group of young kids around 14 years of age are making a zombie movie with a Super 8 film-camera. Super 8 (or Super 8 mm film) is a motion picture film format. The director, a chubby and bossy kid named Charles (played by actor Riley Griffiths), wants to enter the film into a local film festival. While filming a scene at a small train station, a train approaches and thunders past the station. Before the train completes its pass, a truck mounts the tracks from the opposite direction on a collision course with the train. The train strikes the truck and derails, and all of this is witnessed by the kids. The military show up soon after, and strange occurrences begin all over town. …so while the kids continue to film their zombie movie on the succeeding days, a larger mystery and adventure rises around them.
J.J. Abrams wrote and directed the film. He is known for the television programs, Lost and Alias, and for the films, Cloverfield, Mission Impossible III and the reboot of the Star Trek franchise. Steven Spielberg was credited as producer. The film was actually made to pay homage to some of Spielberg’s early films, specifically E.T. (director) and The Goonies (writer and producer).

Overall, I really liked the movie. I am “biased” because when I was in high school I used to make short little movies with my friends. We each bring different interests or histories when watching a film, and with my history, nostalgia crept up while watching the kids make their zombie movie. I also personally really like vintage and retro stuff, so the setting of 1979 was also particularly enjoyable for me. I remember at one point while watching the movie I thought to myself, “I wish we didn’t have cell phones.” I guess I sort of miss house phones.

My favorite parts were the scenes of the kids, and not just because they were making a movie together. Their differing personalities, interactions with one another, and dialogue was all very entertaining. The actors who played the kids were terrific. And it wasn’t all verbal jabs at one another either; there was some emotional weight brought into the story that involved two of the kids, Joe Lamb and Alice Dainard. Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning portrayed the characters and did a great job; I was sucked into their story, wishing that I was 14 with Alice Dainard knocking on my window in the middle of the night, wanting to talk.

I actually watched the movie twice before writing this, and I am glad that I did. The first time I watched the film, I liked everything that I’ve mentioned above, but  I didn’t care much for the parallel story that converges more and more with the kids as the movie goes on: the story of the military searching the train wreckage and then taking their search into town, and of the police deputy (Kyle Chandler, best known for television’s Friday Night Lights) who wants answers from General Nelec (Noah Emmerich) while having to deal with strange calls coming in from all over town, reporting unnerving occurrences. My second viewing of the film was about a week after watching it for the first time, and this time around I found myself much more engaged by the movie as a whole, as opposed to select portions.

*Spoiler Alert!

After watching it twice, my only criticisms that are worth mentioning have to do with the ending. Suddenly the film seemed to want the viewers to feel some sort of emotional attachment or response to the alien leaving earth (an alien was being transported by the military by train and escaped the wreckage). However, there was little throughout the film to warrant much, if any, emotional relationship to the alien character. The ending was cheesy, and there were particulars that were out of place. For example, Joe Lamb let go of his mother’s necklace that he always carries with him, allowing it to leave with the alien. It didn’t make sense. At the beginning of the film, we learn that his mother died in an accident. However, throughout the film we also learn that he had a very close relationship with his mother. He didn’t have a relationship with the alien creature. The alien didn’t come to live at his house like E.T. It didn’t make sense for him to give away his mother’s necklace, and all I could think was “You’re gonna regret that.”


  1. I haven't put together a final list of my favorite movies from 2011, but this very well might be #1. If not, it's easily in the top 3. I expected absolutely nothing when I went to see it, so to get a movie of this quality was a really pleasant surprise. The biggest thing for me wasn't the story, though I very much enjoyed it, but it was the quality of the kid actors (major kudos to Abrams for getting so much out of them) and the quality of the script. Really clever all around.

    As for your criticism, I don't totally agree. I'm not sure if they were trying to get you to sympathize with the alien as much as they were drawing parallels to Joe and the alien and how strong Joe was for how he dealt with his tragedy. Also, giving up the necklace was purely symbolic of him letting go. Nothing to do with any impact the alien had.

  2. Well, here's one of them right here - I haven't seen the movie yet! But, I am actually planning on watching it someday. As such, I have (somehow) actually managed to find my way down to the comments section whilst avoiding the paragraph below your Spoiler Alert, and Jon's comment above. Anyway, I did not know all about the kids filming a movie and all that stuff. I share a similar nostalgic feeling with you when it comes to that stuff... so now I want to watch it even more. Thanks for the review - and, as always, for being good about spoiler alerts in your posts.

  3. Casey! We have to watch it this weekend!

  4. Well, now that I watched the movie at Landrum's house over the weekend and have had ample time to process what I experienced... DePue, pretty much everything you said is dead on with how I feel about it (at least your description of seeing it the 1st time... maybe I'll warm up to the other aspects the 2nd time around, as well). You can't praise Abrams (and most likely Spielberg, too - he's always, ALWAYS been the best at identifying young, talented actors) enough for the children's performances. Also, it was a lot of fun to watch just on the basis of the kids' interaction with each other, and the nostalgic elements of the film as well.

    But I had the exact same thoughts about the negatives of the movie. I didn't care about the alien. It felt like it was contrived from the plot of ET, but without the elements leading up to it. The necklace annoyed me, too. Actually, pretty much the whole last scene with the ship taking off. You said this film was a tribute to Spielberg - dare I suggest that this scene felt contrived from Indiana Jones 4?! (For those who have yet to see Indiana Jones 4, that's not a compliment!!!) Yeah, pretty much everything you said resonated perfectly with me. But overall, it was an enjoyable movie experience. I wish I had seen it earlier so that all the raving of morons like Landrum hadn't skewed my expectations!! ;-)