I watched this film just the other day and am glad to say that you can relax: you don’t need to have seen the first seven in order to enjoy this movie.
Super 8 is a reverent Spielbergian pastiche – The Goonies meets E.T., if you will – but to others it’s yet another example of J.J. Abrams having some wonderful ideas and then running out of steam way before the end. Well. I think that’s just rude. Yes, the first act is tremendously solid and tough to beat but I am of the opinion that the rest is also rather wonderful. It’s a throwback. A beautiful gorgeous throwback.
It’s set in 1979 and features a bunch of rural Ohio middle schoolers who are shooting a zombie movie using a Super 8 camera (hence the title, and I feel like an idiot for saying the word ‘hence’, but that’s what it’s for. I looked it up). This Goonie-ish band sneak out of their respective houses late at night in order to shoot a scene at a quaint little railway station when something happens and OH MY GOODNESS a train crashes. It’s a ridiculously (and deliberately so) over the top sequence that just has to be seen to be believed. Absolutely daft and completely brilliant.
Here are some DVD screengrabs of the moments before, during and after the crash for you:
Unbeknownst to our cast, something was being carried in that train. Something not of this earth… And from that point on lots of weird things start happening in the town of Lillian (which is where the film is set, although – get this – it doesn’t really exist. It’s actually a city in West Virginia called Weirton. I know, right?!), such as police cars getting crushed…
…and all the dogs running away…
…and oh what’s this? It’s the military! This is Colonel Nelec:
He’s obviously the bad guy. Boo, hiss, you were great in The Truman Show, etc.
Meanwhile the kids just carry on making their film – like you would when everything around you is going nuts – using the wreckage from the train crash as a nice backdrop while the army fly around “tidying things up”, but now… now now now… there’s something on the loose…
Super 8 isn’t unique: like every other film it contains some errors, and these are all “lovingly” listed on its IMDB page. They range from the “yeah, OK, you got me” of a garage attendant using a Walkman (not introduced to the US until 1980), via the “you’re pushing it there, pal” of the kids knowing all the words to My Sharona when it had only just been released, or a TV news broadcast using the Arial font (not invented until 1982), to the crushingly inane observation that one of the trucks in the film has a “central tire inflation system” that was not used before 1994. Seriously? I mean, kudos to you for spotting that, but come on!
Ah well… regarding the Walkman, Super 8 is a homage to the classic films of our (my) youth, set in a time when you got your news from the news. A time when you couldn’t instantly upload your mobile phone video to YouTube. A time when you listened to music on audio cassettes and recorded movies onto film which had to be sent off for processing. Hence (there’s that word again) the following wonderful dialogue:
“I need this film developed as soon as possible. Can you do overnight?”
“Asshole, no one can do overnight.”
“Well, what’s the fastest you can do?”
“I can make it a rush. You’ll get your film back in three days.”
There are accusations that the ending is lame (I’d call it “sweet”), and the story’s several lines of conflict are conveniently and neatly resolved, but then what else are you watching for? This is a fantasy film in the classic tradition, superbly paced, brilliantly cast and acted. But whatever your opinion of it just don’t switch off before the credits roll – the completed zombie film is shown at the end and it’s great!
And, honestly, how can anyone dislike something that contains a line as great as, “Your obsession with fireworks, and I’m saying this as a friend, concerns me, and my mother”?
9 June 2011.
Bad Robot Productions, Amblin Entertainment.