movie review: SUPER 8

If you’re wondering what’s missing from so many big-budget, effects-driven Hollywood movies, the answer lies in J.J. Abrams’ Super 8: heart and passion. What’s happening onscreen really matters to the young people in the story—so it matters to us, too. Moreover, there’s no cynicism or aloofness in these characters or the way they’re depicted. Just look at the face of newcomer Joel Courtney, who plays the leading role in Super 8, and you see the kind of guileless all-American boy we don’t find too often in contemporary films.

It isn’t coincidental that the story takes place in 1979, before the age of Twitter and texting. That’s also the period in which Steven Spielberg captured the imagination of moviegoers around the world with such impassioned films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Abrams is unabashedly emulating—

—Spielberg here, and had the benefit of his input as this movie’s hands-on producer, but Super 8 never feels recycled or second-hand.

It does feel “old-school,” and whether or not that will play with today’s younger audiences remains to be seen…but I had an awfully good time watching the movie and rekindling emotions I haven’t felt in a Hollywood movie for quite some time.

Super 8 hearkens back to a time when kids embarked on the adventure of making home movies without the benefit of digital cameras or Final Cut Pro. (Here, Abrams is summoning up his own childhood and drawing on first-hand recollections of making movies with his friends.) The setting is a steel-mill town in Ohio, and the protagonist is a boy whose mother has recently died in a tragic accident, leaving him and his father, a deputy sheriff, to fend for themselves without her loving care. Getting involved in his best friend’s movie projects is a perfect release for young Joe, all the more so when his pal invites a girl from school (whom he’s never had the nerve to talk to) to be their leading lady. She’s played by the remarkable Elle Fanning, who manages to fit in perfectly with her less experienced costars.

Paralleling this facet of the movie is a monster-on-the-loose plot, complete with military cover-up. It begins with the amateur moviemakers shooting at a train station late one night and bearing witness to a cataclysmic train wreck. (Spielberg has often mentioned his indelible boyhood memory of seeing Cecil B. DeMille’s spectacular train wreck in The Greatest Show on Earth, and even used a clip of the scene in his War of the Worlds. Now he and Abrams have actually topped it.)

The monster subplot reveals the mindset of someone who grew up on 1950s and 60s science-fiction and understands the precept first voiced by King Kong’s creator, Merian C. Cooper, who said the best way to hook an audience was to remember the 3 d’s: keep your creature distant, difficult, and dangerous..

I realize that Super 8 may sound like little more than a patchwork of earlier generations’ movies. That’s not entirely inaccurate, but it’s much too glib, like accusing Quentin Tarantino of merely stitching together riffs from genre movies he loves. Like Tarantino, Abrams has soaked up popular culture like a sponge, and while he naturally calls on tropes from movies and television shows he’s seen, he is also a skillful storyteller who knows how to layer action and thrills onto a bedrock of emotional truth. That’s what makes Super 8 so satisfying.


  1. Patrick M. Gouin says:

    A very entertaining film, riveting till the end. Like an ET, a little scarier. 7/10

  2. Dennis Johns says:

    Maltin, you ingenious SOB-I read your books. You are way off track on this one. This movie was nothing more than the “Goonies” Meets “ET” with a bad attitude, both of which were much better movies. Then at the end a sprinkling of “Close Encounters” was tossed in as icing on (stale) cake. And no mention of the use of foul language in a movie whose target audience, in part, is children. Even for a science fiction story, this was ridicules, implausible, and nonsensical.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    I saw this film Saturday night and I can tell you this. It was not as excellent as the critics have declared it to be. It was decent, but the rationale for the rave reviews escapes me.

    As for Mr. Maltin, this is a review he could have given to several films this year but chose not to. He has criticized many good films this year for “losing momentum”, “running out of steam”, “not fulfilling its potential” etc. For some reason, he didn’t have those problems with this film.

    This movie season, Mr. Maltin has been nothing if not inconsistent and totally illogical. But hey, there’s always next year to re-build one’s credibility.

  4. Dan says:

    @ JD

    Then, why are none of the Tarantino homages to 70s exploitation films set in the 1970s? Why not let the movie stand on its own? There was nothing in plot that required it to be set in the 1970s. Do not be an a*****e.

  5. JD says:

    It was really really good, one of my favourite movies. You first posters are moronic. The movie is good, so he gave it a good review. Just because it comes from Hollywood doesn’t mean it’s bad – that’s simplistic and idiotic thinking. This is J.J. Abram’s work – not Spielberg’s, @n shepard. He produced it but Abrams wrote and directed it. And @J. it IS an homage. Maltin in the review speaks to why it being in the 70’s really suits the film. Nice attempt at criticism.

  6. n shepard says:

    Spielberg out of ideas, needs gimmicks to pedal his stuff. Let me know when he learns to direct again.

  7. Sun Wu Kong says:

    This review is complete puff, lacking any real objectivity or actually criticism. Leonard Maltin needs to stop pandering to Hollywood. What a load of bullocks!

  8. Mona says:

    Great movie. I sat back and enjoyed it. I thought the casting was perfect, Abrams is good at that. People should go see this movie and let themselves be entertained. Don’t go in and pick the plot apart, for God’s sake can’t we ever just go see a movie and not require any more than to come out feeling good. It’s was so refreshing!

  9. Scott R. says:

    I enjoyed some parts of this film, but to me the ‘Spielberg’ moments felt false and acted, too many absurd things introduced out of the blue, too many things introduced that were ultimately inconsequential. I think it’s a movie for kids that tries to appeal to adults as well but, for me anyway, was thin and flat.

  10. J. says:

    It was pretty lame. There was no reason for it to be set in the 70s except to justify its existence by calling itself an “homage.”

  11. holly wendland says:

    i agree 100%-i miss those kind of movies-and i miss the early spielberg pictures.a more innocent time and in my opinion better movies.

  12. Jill Kennedy says:

    Great review. I can’t wait to see it. I will be curious to see if it has that same feeling for me as the Spielberg movies did when I was a kid.

    Here’s one of the best reviews I’ve read – a Finnish film reviewer attempting to write in English.

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