Super 8

While it’s not part of my usual TV schedule, I occasionally catch part of an episode of 16 and Pregnant on MTV.  While some claim it glamorizes teen pregnancy, I see it more as an effective birth control method.  Watching a couple of episodes of the show makes it perfectly clear none of these young people comes anywhere close to prepared for the responsibilities of parenthood.  While some try to work and go to school, many depend on the resources of their parents to feed, house and clothe them and their child.  Unfortunately, many adults are unprepared for parenthood as well.  In this week’s movie, “Super 8,” a tragedy leads to single parenthood for a man who is ill-equipped to deal with his monster-movie obsessed son.  Meanwhile, a catastrophe of a different type unleashes a problem in a small town that no one on Earth can handle.

Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) recently lost his mother to an accident at the steel mill where she worked in their home town of Lillian, Ohio.  His dad, Jackson (Kyle Chandler) is a deputy sheriff and is emotionally unprepared to be a single parent.  Jackson would like Joe to go to a six week baseball camp in the summer of 1979, but Joe is helping his friend Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths) make a Super 8 zombie movie to enter in a Cleveland, Ohio film festival.  Joe, who is responsible for the film’s makeup and special effects, is thrilled when Charles announces Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) has agreed to take a part in the movie.  Joe has a crush on Alice.  Unfortunately, Joe’s dad and Alice’s father Louis (Ron Eldard) don’t like each other.  Louis is a drunk and called in sick at the steel mill, leading to Joe’s mom being called in on the day of the accident.  As Joe, Charles, Alice and the rest of the cast and crew are shooting a nighttime scene at a small train station; a pickup truck drives onto the tracks in the path of an oncoming train.  The resulting crash derails the train, sending railcars flying in all directions.  After the commotion dies down, Joe approaches a railcar on its side that is making a loud banging noise.  Soon, the giant door on the side facing the sky flies off.  Distracted by one of his friends, they begin looking for the rest of their group.  Once everyone is accounted for, the crew finds the truck that caused the accident.  Inside is one of their teachers, Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman).  He’s badly injured but still alive.  He warns the kids to run away and not talk about what they’ve seen, otherwise, they and their families could be killed.  Seeing approaching military men, the kids decide to take Dr. Woodward’s advice, collect their equipment and head for home.  The next morning, Air Force Col. Nelec (Noah Emmerich) assures Deputy Lamb that nothing dangerous was on board the train and he and his men will handle the clean up; but Jackson doubts the Colonel’s word.  Soon after the crash, strange things begin happening all over town:  The power goes out, dogs run away, microwave ovens disappear by the dozens, engines are removed from cars and people are vanishing.  The kids don’t know it, but they captured something unusual and dangerous on the film they shot the night of the train crash and it could change their lives forever.

“Super 8” manages to do quite the juggling act, keeping a number of plot points simultaneously moving without letting any of them crash to the ground.  The film is a mixture of comedy, family drama, coming-of-age and science-fiction; but none of these elements feels like it is tacked on or an afterthought.  Director and writer JJ Abrams is able to mix it all into a coherent, engaging and moving story.  The young actors who play the main characters are a very talented bunch.  While most of them play a type, it is done with great skill and enthusiasm, and calls to mind another film featuring a group of kids on a great adventure:  “The Goonies.”  Fans of that film will probably see similarities between the characters, which may not be a coincidence as both films were produced by Steven Spielberg.

The film is also drawing comparisons with Spielberg’s “E.T.”  To me, that seems like an over simplification of the “Super 8” story and a lazy comparison.  The tone and style of the two films are very different.  While there is an alien creature in both movies, that is very different as well.  This E.T. has some serious attitude and a grudge to settle.  It doesn’t mind getting some blood on its hands (or whatever you call its grasping appendages).

Another comparison that could be made is the look of the creature to the Abrams produced monster movie “Cloverfield.”  There is a similarity in the general appearance of the two otherworldly beasts and they seem to move is a similar fashion; however, the “Super 8” creature has a more insect-like look and, while big, isn’t the size of a skyscraper.  This beast also has a purpose in what it does as opposed to the mindless destruction perpetrated by the “Cloverfield” monster.  We don’t get a good look at the beast in either film until near the end.  I like this approach and wish more monster movies would hold off on the creature reveal.  It adds tension that quickly disperses when the monster has as much face time as the lead actors.

As with most films about alien creatures on Earth, the villain of the piece is the military.  While I understand that need for a powerful entity to be the bad guy, does it always have to be a branch of the armed forces?  I know not everyone in uniform is a saint, but surely there must be some other organization that can be cast as the cold, cruel, nearly omnipotent heavy.  My choice would be either the CIA or the NSA, since we know so little about how they work and conspiracy theorists claim they are in possession of alien beings and technology already.  It would be in Hollywood’s best interest to remember we have two wars going on and the goodwill of Americans is with those who serve in the armed forces.

“Super 8” is rated PG 13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use.  The creature crushes one man against a glass door causing a large splash of blood.  There are numerous explosions caused by malfunctioning military weapons, leading to one of the kids getting hurt.  There is a reference to buying pot and the same character is shown smoking a joint.  Foul language is commonly used by the young cast with the “F-bomb” dropped by an adult character once.

“Super 8” manages to be about three different movies wrapped up into one film.  The various story elements are mixed like a cake recipe, each flavor adding to the finished product.  While the finished product has one stale element, overall it’s a tasty treat.

“Super 8” gets five guitars.

Super powers, penguins and Paris are you choices for films this week.  Vote for the next movie you’d like me to review.

Green Lantern—Ryan Reynolds stars as test pilot Hal Jordan, who is chosen to wear the power ring and join the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins—Jim Carrey's average life is turned upside down when he inadvertently inherits some penguins from Antarctica.

Midnight in Paris—Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams are a couple who travel to Paris for business and have their lives transformed.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

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