Super 8

Posted on June 13, 2011

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I went to go see Super 8 yesterday at the drive-in close to my house. Maybe that’s why I feel the way I do about this film. However, I believe that a good film can be seen anywhere, and the drive-in is no exception.

WARNING: I am going to talk about the plot of this movie. If you don’t want it spoiled, then don’t read. You have been warned.

Super 8 is a film about a bunch of kids making a movie. Or, rather, it should be about a bunch of kids making a movie. Instead, what we get is a very good film that becomes not-so-good very quickly.

I absolutely loved the first act. For the first quarter of the movie, we follow Charles and his gang of friends as they attempt to make a zombie movie for a film festival. The gang makeup is pretty rudimentary: we have the slightly chubby leader, the brainy loser, the invisible guy (who is basically nonexistent),  the older girl (14 to everyone else’s 12), the kid obsessed with fire, and the hero, Joe. They form a charming bunch and their friendship is believable and heartwarming. The dialogue is funny and entertaining. Cary, who loves explosions, starts talking about fireworks. His friends tell him that they worry for his sanity. It’s funny. Charles, the director, keeps going on and on about needing more production value. Once again: funny.

I’m not going to talk a lot about the plot, except to say this: while filming at a train station, the kids are flung into the middle of a giant train crash. And I mean two straight minutes of explosions and flying cars. At one point we think one of the kids has bit the dust. No worries, it’s just Joe’s supply of fake blood. After this, weird stuff starts happening: dogs run away, car engines and microwaves vanish, and people start to disappear.

I just want to say for the record that it’s pretty obvious what is causing all this stuff. Super 8 was written / directed byJ.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, for goodness sakes. If you couldn’t tell from the trailers, the thing is an alien. And here’s where we get into trouble.

When the alien started to do it’s creepy alien thing abducting people and stealing technology, I just stopped caring about the movie a bit. The mystery was gone. The scenes were technically spotless, and really well done; each shot during the suspenseful scenes lingered and increased the tension. And even though you know it’s an alien, you don’t know what it looks like, and the kids don’t know it’s an alien.

And then they figure it out, and you see the thing, and I lost interest. The movie ends with a thrilling final scene that is reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and then the credits roll, leaving me with a whole whack of problems. And they all centered around the alien.

First of all, it was not a well-designed alien. It was confusing, which is excusable, but just not in this case. The alien in Super 8 just did not make sense. There were limbs flying everywhere, it’s face opened weirdly, and it stank of CGI. What’s disappointing here is that both Spielberg and Abrams know how to do good aliens. Star Trek was actually pretty good, but it doesn’t hold a candle to E.T. or Close Encounters. Where did all this sci-fi excellence go?

Secondly, the alien’s motives were confusing as well. I get that it hates humans after years of torture at the hands of the US Government. I get that it steals technology to make its ship. I get that it’s a subterranean creature, and therefore  needs to have the creepiest lair possible. What I don’t get is how it deals with humans. Throughout the movie, we see people get spirited away by this thing. We figure that they get eaten, and we’re alright with that. That’s what (some) aliens do. However, at the climax of the movie, Joe and explosives kid go into this alien’s home to discover all the abducted people hanging upside-down from the ceiling. Alright, so it’s just leaving them to stew for a bit until it gets hungry. That’s cool, until the alien leaves without doing anything to any of the people it’s taken. So why take them in the first place? It makes no sense.

Also weird is the idea that the alien establishes a psychic or empathetic link with whomever it touches. Alright, some aliens have weird abilities like that. But the weird part is that if such a link existed, it would know that the humans it contacts sympathize with its predicament, like the high school teacher who causes the train crash. So, if the alien knows that people want to help it, why is it still abducting people for no reason, and then not letting them go? It’s not to keep a low profile, it has to know that the Air Force knows that it’s already in town. So why bother?

Ultimately, Super 8 was a good summer blockbuster film. What seems to be the main plot at first, with the kids making their zombie movie, is absolutely brilliant in its execution. But then the train crashes, and we get into cheezy, unexplainable alien-ville. This alien, while thrilling, is not good for people who like to think about what they see, because it has a lot of holes. You should see it, just to see the finished zombie movie, which is played during the credits.

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