“Super 8” is possibly the perfect summer movie. Thirty years ago.
Today, it comes across as a well-made but out-of-place exercise in nostalgia.
Maybe my expectations were too high. This movie has been hyped as the “it” movie of summer 2011 for more than a year. Producer Stephen Spielberg! Writer/Director J.J. Abrams! You’ve all see the trailer: Horrific train crash followed by mysterious — no doubt dangerous — thing trying to hammer its way out of a train car. Exciting and suspenseful stuff.
Here’s the reality: “Super 8” is 20 percent exciting and suspenseful creature feature and 80 percent kid drama. If that’s cool by you, it’s well crafted and acted. Personally, I wanted more of the former and less of the latter.
The year is 1979 and young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is being raised by his well-meaning but ill-prepared father (Kyle Chandler), following the death of his mother in a factory accident. Joe spends most of his time hanging out with best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths). Charles likes making horror movies with his Super 8 camera.
Along with pals Cary (Ryan Lee), Preston (Zach Mills) and Martin (Gabriel Basso), Charles and Joe are currently working on a zombie movie. Feeling the story needs romance, Charles convinces Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) to join the cast. Alice’s father (Ron Eldard) and Joe’s father don’t get along, so naturally Alice and Joe are drawn to each other.
One night the gang to out to shoot a scene by the train tracks. While they’re shooting their science teacher pulls up and drives up onto the tracks to derail the approaching train. The kids somehow survive the spectacular train crash which scatters metal debris all around.
The next morning the military has the accident scene under wraps. Joe’s dad, the town deputy, wants answers but isn’t getting any. As mysterious things beginning happening, it’s up to the kids to get the answers.
I’m really flummoxed by this week’s movies. I hate to criticize “Super 8” — it’s a good movie, I just didn’t care for it. The kids’ stories didn’t appeal to me and were very predictable and it all just felt so ’80s. It’s also all too “Scooby Doo.” The kids figure things out that the adults — especially the military — should’ve figured out long before.
The special effects are decent but it turns out Abrams’ obsession with lens flare isn’t just limited to “Star Trek.” As far as the creature goes, if you’re hoping to get a good view of it, forget it. The thing only shows up at night and rarely on-screen. Despite the impressive train crash and other special effects, the movie’s best moment was probably Charles’ zombie movie that runs during the end credits.
Did it work for me? I think it’s pretty clear that it didn’t. “Super 8” is the biggest disappointment of the summer so far (I didn’t have high hopes for “The Hangover II” to begin with).