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Caveat: I don't know about you, but I was the age of the kids who are in a lot of Steven Spielberg's early movies. I was the same age as the kids I saw on the screen from JAWS to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND to GREMLINS. Then I started getting older than the kids in Spielberg directed or produced movies like E.T. and THE GOONIES (which wasn't great, but it was good enough). I sat in the theater and watched in true fun filled wonder at the places Steve took me in movies like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and POLTERGIEST. I was blissed, I was blessed, and it was Steve who took me there.
There is something about the SUPER 8 poster that promises so much. As if Steven was saying, "Psst! Hey! We're going to do it again! Old School!"
The story begins in the summer of 1979 (Spielberg's heyday) at a wake. Joe Lamb's mother died in an accident at the plant. As Joe (Joel Courtney) stays to himself outside, a man drives up, clearly under the influence, goes inside, and is physically hustled right back out again by Joe's father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler: KING KONG , THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL ).
Charles orders everyone about, spouting words and phrases that he likely knows little about but has read plenty about!
One of the people he bosses around is the quiet Joe, who is the special effects make-up artist of the group. Joe is still nursing a wound that has yet to heal.
What could heal that wound isn't a what at all but a Who. Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning: THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR, DEJA VU, THE NINES) is the slightly older girl of the group who Charles convinced to star in his movie. PLUS, she can drive a car! PLUS, she actually HAS a car to drive (although it doesn't actually belong to her). Joe finds himself smitten with her, as he has seen her in school and has been developing a bit of a crush. But here she is, in real life, breathing and talking and sitting right next to him. They are actually sort of touching!
Yes, they are about to get a shot of the train in the movie for free!
But then they witness something horrific happen to the train and to one of their teachers. And so begins a terrifying mystery, plunked right down in the middle of people whose lives are hideously interrupted by another reality.
Deputy Lamb is leery of the train wreck, and why the military instead of rescue people are commanding operations and covert ones at that. He can't get his boss, Sheriff Pruitt (Brett Rice: EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, CONJURER, ENDURE), to listen to his concerns. Why is the military invading the town, cordoning off whole houses on street corners? What do houses sitting far away from the train wreck have to do with the accident? What is going on?
Now it's at this point that any other movie would suddenly ratchet up on the suspense and thrills - like we saw with J.J. Abrams CLOVERFIELD. Unfortunately, what actually happens is that the movie slides into something J.J. Abrams and the young Steven Spielberg would have never done: It becomes a self-mocking parody even as it insists on maintaining an air of serious self-rightousness.
See my 2006 article, Horror Thriller Ideas: Science 3a.
In the great tradition of such highly regarded monster movies like DREAMCATCHER, PYTHON and ALIEN 3000, the Hollywood stereotype of the Evil Colonel / General* (Noah Emmerich: CELLULAR, TRUST) - as seen in Fred Olen Ray, Syfy Channel, and Asylum Entertainment movies everywhere, makes his entrance. General Nelec stiffly struts around with such over-the-top menace that you expect him to suddenly blast forth with an evil "Muh Ha! Ha! Ha! Haaa!!!" He may have held a riding crop, centered at the crook of his arm, at some point.
This isn't a spoiler by the way. Right after that opening train wreck, the teacher, Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman: GREMLINS) - aka Exposition Guy - as he lay wounded in his pick-up truck right after the accident, gets the kids all up to speed on what just happened and why.
As you'd expect from a story of this low caliber, SUPER 8 also gets the
!!!UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT!!!:
But beware! There be SPOILERS at the UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT!
Then see why this movie gets one: URCA/Super8.
The evil General Nelec wants the alien back. Why? So he can torture it some more. The government backs this up, apparently: Your tax dollars at work. Nelec even has a towering, silent, evil henchman, Overmyer (Richard T. Jones: EVENT HORIZON, PHONE BOOTH, TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES).
J.J. Abrams has evil people on his show, FRINGE. He had insidious people on his show LOST. He never turned his characters into caricatures. It would be stupid.
Young Spielberg (pre-1989) would have never done that: Not even when he was displaying the most brutal Nazis who delight in the suffering of others. It would have been beneath him to do something so foolish: Even when he was making something supposed to be at least semi-cartoonish like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
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