Review of Super 8 (2011)

Moving picture, 112 minutes

Seen in 2017.

Watch it for the likeable child characters, particularly poor Martin CGI-vomiting in shock.

I was hoping for Tales from the Loop. I would have settled for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). What I got was The Goonies (1985) mixed up with Cloverfield (2008) and the extreme military incompetence of The Crazies (1973), The Return of the Living Dead (1985) etc., though the zombie menace is limited to the film within the film. It’s excellent up until the train crash, which goes hilariously overboard. From that scene onward Abrams loses track. He falls back on irony and spectacle. The period piece aspect is undermined by lampshade hanging, the all-hit soundtrack and the Walkman analysis. The action aspect is undermined by cartoon physics, including the train crash and several battle tanks firing without injuring the people near them. The science fiction aspect never gets off the ground.

The train crash is a plot hole, which distracts from the fact that the Air Force moving the creature by train, unescorted, is a plot hole. An escorted truck or APC would make sense, given that the creature cannot seem to lift tanks. A plane or a Chinook would also make sense: they do crash, and distance from the ground would provide some apparent insulation from the creature’s psychokinesis. Dr. Woodward trying to stop the train by ramming it is a plot hole. His survival is a plot hole, an implausible convenience to convey unnecessary information poorly. The Air Force keeping the building materials for the spaceship in town is a plot hole.

Woodward should have found a plausible way to stop the transport and free the creature. The creature should have connected more people, this apparently being in its interest. Living near a steel mill, Woodward should have been driven to prepare materials for the ship years in advance, the way the people touched in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) get images of the mountain. For an homage to Spielberg, this movie misses a lot of such opportunities.

Abrams tries to build suspense mainly by teasing the audience, leaning into spoiler culture and deferring the delivery of the tiny bit of content he’s prepared. Dainard’s role in Joe’s mother’s death should have been clear in the first act, delivered by one of Joe’s friends, to show that they are his friends. The appearance of the creature is similarly kept from the audience by embarrassingly self-conscious camerawork. The reveal itself is banal and unnecessary; its lateness is just stupid. This is a pity. With more work on the script, the movie could easily have been very good.

References here: Captive State (2019).

moving picture fiction