With Steven Spielberg as the film’s producer, audiences were bound to hope for the best from Super 8, especially given the nostalgic trailers released as promotion, greatly channeling Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. The concept for the film was a familiar one for anyone who grew up in the ‘80s: a group of misunderstood kids must work together to defeat the bad guys, always one step ahead of their bewildered parents. Unfortunately for Super 8, this storyline only made up half of the film, as the movie began as two separate scripts: one that followed Abrams’ childhood, making Super 8mm films, and one that detailed a monster escaping from Area 51. Although Abrams combined the scripts to make one complete story line, the film never seemed to find its path. Somewhere in between a War-of-the-Worlds-sized train crash and the reveal of an unoriginal alien, the heart of the kids’ story was forsaken for cool special effects.
In an attempt to fill the emotional holes in the group’s story, Abrams inserted nearly identical scenes from successful ‘80s movies into the most epic of situations in his film. From the kids crawling along the train tracks to avoid the (derailed) train (Stand by Me) to the main character identifying with an alien, who had the ability to share emotions after coming into physical contact (E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial), and a pattern of narrow escapes from the bad guys (The Goonies), Super 8 never allowed itself the chance to create its own “moments.”
With iconic films like Steven Spielberg’s E.T. and The Goonies and Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me, a generation of kids found in film a way to make sense of the changes in themselves and the world around them. For many fans, these films went so far as to instill a desire to become filmmakers themselves, hoping to create meaningful, yet entertaining, films that would inspire future generations in the same way.
These films were defined by well-written dialogue (that was befitting of young adults) and realistic situations (even in the face of unbelievable circumstances) that depicted life as it was: an ever-changing chaos of hilarity, heartbreak, and hope. The biggest and most memorable moments of these films were never generated from explosions or large set pieces; they were genuine, organic moments shared by people who faced life itself. This is exactly where J.J. Abrams missed the mark with Super 8. Rather than creating his own genuine moments over which future generations would reminisce, Abrams attempted to mimic and force the successful elements of ‘80s films into Cloverfield.
The film was not devoid of laudable elements. By far, the cast of youngsters that carried the film did so capably and genuinely. While each displayed their own quirky personas with ease, delivering witty dialogue characteristic of adolescent banter, I was absolutely amazed by the performance of Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard. Much like her older sister, Fanning’s natural talent was mesmerizing, appearing effortless.
I remain puzzled by movie-goers’ mixed reactions to the film; I so immensely disliked it that I cannot grasp what it was about the film that some enjoyed. It is highly unlikely that I will give the film a second viewing; however, I am open to discussions from fans who liked Super 8 as to the aspects that I may have overlooked or misinterpreted.