3 Stars – Powerful
The strength of J.J. Abrams’ work lies in his storytelling ability. As an experienced writer (Lost – 114 episodes) and an imaginative director (Star Trek), Abrams is a master at weaving together good character development with science fiction. Super 8 is a wonderful example of both his writing and directing skill.
Understanding that science-fiction is as much about the characters as it is about the aliens, Abrams introduces us to Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) on the day of his mother’s funeral. Lost in his grief, we hear the concern of their neighbors that his father won’t be able to care for him. As a sheriff’s deputy, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) has been consumed with his work and truly doesn’t know his son.
We are also introduced in this opening scene to Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard). When Dainard comes to the house following the funeral, Deputy Lamb inexplicably throws him off his property. This tension is amplified when Joe begins a relationship with Dainard’s daughter Alice (Elle Fanning), a love which is forbidden by both of their fathers.
The title of the film comes from Joe’s friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) who is using his parents’ Supper 8 camera to make a horror film. They are joined by Cary (Ryan Lee), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Preston (Zach Mills). Sneaking out in the middle of the night to film at an isolated train station, they are there when a catastrophic wreck of a military train exposes them to a world-class danger.
We won’t share what the danger is or how this group of young teenagers are instrumental in saving the world, but the tale is inventive and yet familiar. From the “Romeo and Juliet” romance, to the evil military Colonel, to the compassionate scientist, to the misunderstood monster, to the ingenuity and courage of children, to the power of love, the themes are familiar. But the imaginative way in which these familiar themes come together works very well.
Super 8 is a film we recommend, but it should be noted that the language and suspense is not suitable for children and these are why it earned its PG rating.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The power of this story lies in its matching human and science fiction tension. Do you think both are resolved in effective ways? Why or why not?
2. The choice to make the alien a blend of the demonic with arachnid reaches into the primal fears we all share. Do you think this makes the film more or less impactful? Why do you answer as you do?
3. Although the alien is a threat, it is explained that this was the result of the way he was treated by the military. How would you want our military to treat an alien?