A few years before ‘Stranger Things’ hit our Netflix accounts, director J. J. Abrams (Mission Impossible III, Star Trek, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) tried his hand at creating an 80s sci-fi throwback with ‘Super 8’. While the film did get mostly positive reviews from both critics and audiences alike on its initial release, I’ve never been a huge fan of this science fiction flick, with many strange decisions at play in addition to its overreliance on borrowing story elements from classic films of the 1980s, ‘Super 8’ has always seemed more like pandering than an enjoyable and nostalgic throwback for me.
During the summer of 1979, a group of young friends shooting a short zombie film are witnesses to a devastating train crash. Soon after, the group find themselves investigating the subsequent unexplained events throughout their small town.
Even with legendary director Steven Spielberg on-board as a producer, ‘Super 8’ mostly lacks the fun tone many of Spielberg’s classics usually overflow with, taking itself pretty seriously aside from a few short moments. Although ‘Super 8’ may not feature this aspect of Spielberg’s work however, the film does utilize many different ideas from his filmography. As while most throwbacks do usually contain a few story elements taken from the films they are inspired by, ‘Super 8’ begins to feel a little derivative at points, eventually developing a plot which feels almost identical to ‘E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ without much experimentation.
Although Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Gabriel Basso, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee and Zach Mills all do a great job at portraying their young characters, the writing throughout the film definitely has room for improvement, as many of the younger characters never quite manage to become incredibly amusing or likeable, with most of them receiving barely any development at all. Following this, as the film’s narrative becomes more tense and dangerous nearing its end, the group’s frustration and panic begins to surface, which although realistic, does result in them becoming rather irritating after a while due to their constant screaming and arguing. Kyle Chandler also makes an appearance within the film as ‘Jackson Lamb’ one of the group’s parents, who does give a decent performance as a strict yet caring father even with his limited screen-time.
The cinematography by Larry Fong is visually pleasing for the most part, creating many different and attractive shots throughout the film. Due to its colour palette and lighting however, the film’s visuals are dragged-down by simply how dark the film is, as a large majority of the story takes place at night, ‘Super 8′ relies heavily on dim lighting and shadows (alongside Abrams’ continued obsession with lens-flares). The film’s CGI effects are also serviceable, with many of the film’s more CGI-heavy moments taking-place at night, meaning any of the CGI visuals which may be lacking are usually saved as a result of them being covered by darkness.
Michael Giacchino is a composer I usually adore, from his astonishing work on films such as: ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Jojo Rabbit’. He normally succeeds far beyond expectations. However, in the case of: ‘Super 8’, his score is simply just ‘okay’, as although it does serve the film’s story decently well, the film’s soundtrack isn’t very unique or memorable. Being a traditional orchestral like many other modern blockbusters, I couldn’t help but feel a classic 80s synth score more along the lines of: ‘Stranger Things’ would’ve worked extremely well for this kind of film, even with the film’s narrative technically being set in the 1970s.
An aspect of: ‘Super 8’ I do truly enjoy is the film’s sound design, an aspect of filmmaking that I rarely mention, ‘Super 8’ actually does a fairly brilliant job of building tension or mystery through its eerie sci-fi noises. In particular, in the scene in which the young group of friends are attacked by an otherworldly creature whilst on-board military transport, as mostly in part to its sound design, this is in my opinion, one of the most effective and memorable scenes of the film.
‘Super 8’ overall feels like a huge waste of potential, as whilst the film is far from awful and does have some interesting aspects scattered throughout its runtime. The film’s weak writing and forgettable original score make the film feel a little bland in areas. In addition to its lack of anything truly original (which is the film’s biggest flaw in my opinion). As unlike ‘Stranger Things’ where the show’s story at least introduces concepts like ‘The Upside Down’ which are somewhat creative, ‘Super 8′ lacks much of anything that hasn’t be explored in sci-fi before. While this film is still a perfect example of J. J. Abrams’ talent for visuals, ‘Super 8’ never really manages to elevate itself beyond being just a simple nostalgia-fest. Altogether a high 5/10.