Super 8 (2011)

I write these posts with little thought to spoilers. Beware.

Joe (Joel Courtney) and his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) realize they're going to have to put their coming-of-age storyline on hold. They're in a sci fi/suspense movie too.

Synopsis: The Goonies have a close encounter with E.T. who turns out to be a little bit more like the shark from Jaws… or maybe the velociraptors from Jurassic Park.

I finally went and saw Super 8 last Thursday and I liked it. The beginning was an amazing movie, and the end was good. This unfortunately made it feel like a bit of a letdown. But when I went and saw it again last Friday, I liked the whole film even better. I’m not going to tell you how many times I saw it over the weekend, but the trend has continued. The more I see this movie, the more I like it as its own movie.

This is made a little difficult because the movie is pretty derivative. This is a movie-lovers’ movie. It’s got E.T., The Goonies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, Jurassic Park and more all rolled into one movie that is not only nostalgic for the 1970s (the movie’s setting) but also for the type of movie you loved as a kid. Part of this movie strikes me as an auto-biography of director/screenwriter J.J. Abrams. And it is delightful.

The biggest flaw in this movie is the thing that has been let loose on the small Ohio town. Rather than being a character, it is a plot device. And so in the end it’s a little hard to care about what happens to it. E.T. was a movie about Elliot and E.T. This is a movie about Joe.

Joe's friends are all a treat, and the actors all do a fantastic job. Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard is especially fantastic.

And the movie about Joe is great. Joe, who has just lost his mother in an accident at the steel mill, is helping his misfit friends make a zombie movie for a local film festival. The kids are incredibly believable – inhabiting the space between childlike innocence and self-possessed maturity that is the end of middle school. Super 8 hits some great emotional notes, making me laugh out loud, jump with surprise and even tear up (Elle Fanning gives a heart-breaking performance of trying so hard not to cry that it becomes hard to breathe).

The last third of the movie errs on the side of gratuity. Rather than spending time on giving us a connection with the mystery menace, we set fire to the majority of town. J.J. Abrams, much like Joe’s pyromaniac friend Cary, can’t seem to stop blowing things up. But while this ending is a bit of a come down after the delightfully nostalgic earlier acts, it’s a perfectly adequate end. This movie is so close to perfect, I wish it had been a first draft.

Takeaway quote: Would you hate me if I started our relationship by asking a favor?

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