Super 8 (2011) came as a complete surprise, for three reasons. Firstly, I didn’t know anything about the movie when I went to watch it (there was only Harry Potter and Super 8 in the local cinema, and we unanimously chose ‘the other movie’), so I was initially somewhat bemused that the film starred a bunch of kids (especially since we went to the 22h30 show, and I was expecting something adult and frightening).
Secondly, one of my friends had told me that it was a ‘zombie movie’, so I was ready to see dead men walking, biting and getting their heads shot off, but I realised after a few minutes that it is the aliens, not the zombies, that are the threatening power in the film. After these two revelations, I expected nothing good, and there came the third surprise – the plot, although silly, is quite entertaining, as are some of the ‘scary’ scenes and the general 1970s setting.
In a small town somewhere in Ohio, young Charlie (Riley Griffiths) decides to make a zombie movie, with a help of his best buddy Joe (Joel Courtney) and a couple of other chums, and they ‘hire’ Alice (Elle Fanning) to play the female lead. Everything goes well until they witness a terrible train crash (a quite impressive, but perhaps a touch overdone), after which strange things start to happen – people disappear, dogs run away, there is no more electricity. On top of that, the army arrives (with tanks) in the town to ‘investigate’ the crash.
It won’t be a spoiler if I say that, yes, it is all linked to a UFO and alien that have been captured by the US army. Fortunately, we don’t see it/him most of the time, which helps to build a little suspense, but it does seem as if teenage friendship, first love and adventure is more important to writer-director J.J. Abrams (who was one of the talents behind Cloverfield (2008)) than the alien itself – sort of like The Goonies (1985). In fact, the whole plot and setting is a direct homage to the kind of movies that I grew up with – E.T. (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) (both directed by Steven Spielberg, who produced Super 8), which is probably why I found the film enjoyable and the plot’s silliness forgivable.
The young actors are quite good, or at least as good as they can be playing their somewhat clichéd roles – the sad guy, the lonely guy, the coward, the girl-everyone-loves. Elle Fanning is of course impressive, as is the unforgettable little pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee) who steals most of her scenes. Unfortunately, however, the conclusion is very soppy, and the final encounter with the big, sad, puppy-eyed alien does not help. But, then again, didn’t all the movies from our childhood end this way? I suppose that if it’s a homage to that sort of movie, it has to be homage all the way.