Lying on a bed, two-thirds of the way through Super 8, Mr. Dainard (Ron Eldard) says to Joe (Joel Courtney), “I’ve seen it…nobody believes me.” Joe’s eyes widen and he whispers, “I believe you,” (a line I’m sure will stick and carry on a legacy all it’s own like “I see dead people” from The Sixth Sense). This line, teased in the film’s trailer about what is seen refers to a creature – the reveal of which comes gradually over the course of the film. The trailer, posters and publicity images obviously depict Super 8 as a sci-fi / thriller involving an alien, but what transpires is a film offering so much more.
A group of young filmmakers are shooting a zombie film, to enter into a film festival, in the summer of 1979 using a Super8 mmfilm camera (originally produced in 1965 as a silent camera, so it’s safe to assume the young filmmakers were using the sound on film 1973 model). Excited by an approaching train, the boys (and girl) set up quickly to capture the approaching train to intensify action and drama. “Action!” The boom mic. is operating, the performances are delivered and the camera is rolling, suddenly, a truck tears onto the tracks causing a head-on collision and subsequent derailment of the locomotive and its stock, which happens to be property of the US Air Force. What exactly does the universe or United States Air Force rather, have in store for the seemingly quaint town of Lillian,Ohio?
After the dogs begin disappearing, the “creature” makes off with the sheriff and store clerk to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” which is just one recognizable song from ’79 – others include “Don’t Bring Me Down” by Electric Light Orchestra and The Knack’s “My Sharona.” Super 8 honestly feels more like an actual vintage piece of 1979 with 2011 production qualities and polish. And that’s all that’s being revealed about that. Between the sci-fi, mystery elements is actually an instant classic. It’s got the American essence you’ll find in a movie like The Sandlot, that makes it more or less timeless by transporting the viewer to a time when children’s minds were full of creativity, determination, bike riding and playing outside (there’s something to be said about a group of kids that just want to make a zombie movie that surprisingly reminded me of classic zombie, romantic comedy and [faintly] film noir movies – so many classic film elements and techniques receive a nod from Super 8). It honestly feels viscerally American – which is a beautiful thing considering most films involving explosions feel more commercially driven than nationally authentic. But the film also has the tender, necessary moments easily accessible in movies like E.T., which is fitting considering Steven Spielberg is attached to both (in fact, Super 8 is likely to become the current generation’s E.T., but better).
In the “Americana Department” viewers will find groovy wallpaper, some marijuana usage, Cheerios, 7-Up and gas for twenty five cents – and that’s all just the start. Everything from the neighborhood to the gas station and houses feels American and that’s going to be one of this film’s greatest testaments and help create and solidify its legacy.
From a more technical, less visceral standpoint, Super 8 is visually amazing – the cinematography by Larry Fong (Sucker Punch, Watchmen, and 300) is superb. The lighting creates a glow in the eyes of the actors at moments and that is when you feel the true magic of this film – it’s as if the viewer can connect with the actor’s passion for this film and their craft. And what the camera and lighting bring to life is accentuated by Michael Giacchino’s (Up, Star Trek, and The Incredibles) score. It’s all just a happy combination – a nicely written, captivating story that was directed by its author J.J. Abrams and brought to life by an amazing cast and crew. Super 8 is the epitome of the collaboration found on the set of a film production – and it shows. There’s just something to be celebrated about a film that reverts to a classic story model and uses exceptional camera work (with very nice foreground and background moments in and out of focus, etc. etc. – filmmakers will appreciate it – a lot).
Super 8 runs approximately 112 minutes and is rated PG-13 – be sure to hang around for the credits because to borrow a line from Charles, the group’s final cut of their “film” (I won’t spoil their title) represents and captures the same thing Super 8 does and “It’s mint!”
Note: Don’t be too surprised if after the reveal the “creature” looks a little familiar (with its mouth closed).