Reviewed by: Scott Brennan
What does the Bible say about intelligent life on other planets? Answer
Are we alone in the universe? Answer
Does Scripture refer to life in space? Answer
questions and answers about the origin of life
death of a parent
strains in parent/child relationships
|Featuring:||Elle Fanning … Alice
Kyle Chandler … Deputy Lamb
Noah Emmerich … Colonel Nelec
Joel Courtney … Joe Lamb
Zach Mills … Preston
|Director:||J.J. Abrams—“Star Trek” (2009), “Mission: Impossible III”|
J.J. Abrams … producer
Bryan Burk … producer
Udi Nedivi … associate producer
Ben Rosenblatt … associate producer
Steven Spielberg … producer
“Mystery is the catalyst for imagination,” J.J. Abrams, writer and director of “Super 8”, once deliberated at a TED conference, and this film takes the audience back to the time when Abrams was coming of age himself—in 1979, in fact—armed with his own “Super 8” camera, a gift from his grandfather—who in some ways may be the muse for this film.
The clever marketing of this film’s release further plays into Abrams’ philosophy of intentionally withholding information in order to engage the potential audience, all the while encouraging “imagination expansion.” Hence the tight seal on the film, from start to finish, right up until this day, June 10, 2011. The trailer is short, intriguing, but, most of all, enticing—with an obvious tie to a plot just beckoning to be told. AMC channel’s recent slogan “Story Matters Here” really speaks to the dividing line between this sci-fi drama and others in the genre. Taking the lead from one of his mentors, Steven Spielberg, who is also an executive producer on the film, Abrams includes some much needed story and character development that seems to be disappearing from similarly themed films, as of late.
So the story line begins with a coming-of-age sort of film about kids in the fictional small town of Lillian, Ohio, who are, of course, making a zombie film together (a la 1970’s horror films), with a “Super 8” camera of their own. During the filming of a particular scene near a train depot, their Super 8 camera captures (frame by frame) a mystery to be revealed in the larger film—one with references to Area 51, secret Air Force missions, and even black and white footage of scientists in white lab coats—flashback to Dharma Initiative Footage from “Lost.” An Air Force train derails during one of their takes, causing all of them to run for their lives, leaving the camera running on its own. And so the mystery begins.
The film is a mix, of sorts, with the feeling-tone of “The Goonies,” “Stand by Me” and “E.T. …,” but with the suspense of “Poltergeist,” to keep you on the edge of your seat. Throw in some “Transformers-esque” CGI and voilà, you have “Super 8.” This PG-13 “story within a story” really becomes a tribute to a genre and an era simultaneously. It’s unfortunate that a distracting number of profanities and adolescent-potty-mouth-verbiage prevent it from becoming a better than average moral rating. However, the absence of sexual situations or innuendos, in addition to the positive pro-family outcomes in the film, keep it from falling into an abyss of superficiality.
The casting is superb (April Webster, Alyssa Weisberg) with several newcomers definitely making a mark for themselves, both as individual performers and with their ability to work together in a tightly wound cast. Elle Fanning (younger sister of Dakota Fanning) is a “stand-out,” along with newcomer Joel Courtney who plays her boy crush. The original music of Michael Giacchino is great (a friend who Abrams really likes and uses frequently for his projects), and he, also, has a small role as Deputy Crawford in the film. Veteran actor Kyle Chandler (“First Edition”) portrays the role of Joel’s grieving father—grounding the film with finesse.
In keeping with J.J. Abrams’ purpose to promote the mystery, especially for those who plan to see the film, not much more of the plot will be revealed here. Let’s just say there is plenty of story and lots of quality—particularly in set decoration and design—besides the obvious CGI exhibitions of the train wreck and the monster. There are some excellent “Spielbergian” shots in the film, reminiscent of ones from Steven’s early successes like “Jaws” and “Close Encounters…,” techniques well-honed by Abrams. Even the credits have the perfect dénouement embedded in them, something a number of people missed in the showing this reviewer attended.
As was mentioned above, profanities are prevalent and difficult to count. There are at least 11 uses of God or OMG, Jesus (7). The teen vulgarities included SOB (2), dumb a**(1), WTF (1), d*ck (1), hell (2), another name for cat (2), and over (35) uses of “sh*t” or a variation thereof.
The train wreck produces some frightening sequences (a little blood with a head injury), in addition to the mystery monster (much scarier than the smoke monster from “Lost”) which becomes increasingly visible, as the film progresses—think the “Bad Robot” icon on steroids, come to life! There are additional macabre scenes in the monster’s lair, the fake zombie shots which could, also, be too much for some children. These sections, along with the profanity, more than likely contributed to the appropriate PG-13 rating.
There is one scene of a 70’s long-haired hippie-type smoking pot in a car and another where he asks someone if they want some pot. There are a few scenes in a local bar where alcohol is being portrayed as the medicinal comfort and solution to life’s problems, a staple for almost all films in the 21st century.
Amanda Michalka, who plays Charles’ older sister, is portrayed in a midriff top that exposes some tantalizing skin on back and stomach, for a couple of scenes, but other than that, the sexual overtones are, happily, virtually non-existent. She, also, exhibits some defiant behavior and backtalk toward the parents, which is certainly not projecting biblical standards for any young viewer.
In the face of such adversity, and with the fearful situations rooted in this story, it is astonishing that not one child or adult calls upon God or any higher power, as part of their character in the film. One boy remarks aloud, “I don’t want to die!,” but, surprisingly, doesn’t appear to be directing it upward—just outward. The entire film is devoid of any kind of spiritual perspective—promoting only a secular worldview—which is not an accurate portrayal of the majority of Americans, even in the late 1970s.
Granted, this film is science fiction, but the subtle influences—i.e., the rewriting of societal perceptions which are devoid of a “spiritual values system” for a given time period—are more than slightly disturbing. They allude to the current and constant barrage of media influences that seek to wash away the knowledge of God in our culture—in its entirety. Another point is with regards to the use of fear as a manipulative element in films, for “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
That notwithstanding, there are some wonderful themes of forgiveness and reconciliation which are present in the movie—especially needed in the development of the principal characters—which can easily be used as “jumping off points” for discussion with your non-Christian family members or friends.
J.J. Abrams likes his audience to think they are going to get one thing, but end up getting something else. In his TV series “Lost,” the audience found the shape-shift monster or the “moving island” was not really the important thing, but instead it was the character(s) that emerged as the “something else”—treasures the audience grew to know and care about as the series unfolded.
The intent was probably similar with “Super 8.” Instead of just the something, a mystery alien, we got the something else: the growth and change of the characters we grow to care about in the film. It should be noted here that Abrams’ story is less than convincing about why anyone should care about this mysterious, but misunderstood, creature—especially one capable of such destruction. It has a whiff of the now ubiquitous dogma of “tolerance” permeating nearly every facet of our society today, begging the question, “can’t we all just get along?”
Back in 1976, as a 10 year old boy, J.J. Abrams purchased a box of magic tricks from a mid-town Manhattan magic shop that he still has to this day. He paid only $15 for it, but it supposedly had $50 worth of magic tricks inside. There is a large question mark on the outside of the box originally intended to inspire the buyer to purchase it—along with its mysterious contents. J.J. has never opened the box, but he keeps it in his office to remind himself that “stories are mystery boxes,” and a good one has to be just that: a carefully packaged mystery.
I was personally hoping for a bigger mystery than what is in this box of “Super 8” film, but for a ticket cost of less than his $15 dollar box of magic, I guess I can say it was worth it. I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if I was only 14 or 15, and hadn’t ever seen “Close Encounters….” Only time will tell whether or not “X-Men: First Class,” “The Green Lantern” or another film will have the longer legs to defeat “Super 8,” and secure the number one slot for the summer of 2011.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: None
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.