Is Super 8 really the movie event you have to see?
In short, probably not. But that doesn't mean the film isn't worth seeing.
Rather, the film is being marketed as one gigantic mystery. From the enigmatic trailer to the varied social network buzz (#Super8Secret was trending on Twitter), Super 8 is legitimately intriguing. But you would be wise to not believe the hype, because the question everyone wants answered ("What's in the train?") isn't all that surprising. Or original.
However, Super 8 ultimately succeeds. It's just a little bizarre, unfortunately, when the grand reveal actually happens. Director J.J. Abrams definitely enjoys the slow-burn attitude, though, as we see in his other universes (Lost's smoke monster didn't take form until the second season or so). When you factor in the real-world marketing and the "secret" aspect as to what the film is all about, Super 8 doesn't really deliver a shocking surprise once all the curtains are drawn. In that sense, the huge marketing ploys are a pretty big detriment to the film. It's a bit of a let down.
It's June of 1979 in fictional small town Lillian, Ohio, and a group of kids are making a zombie movie. A key scene brings the budding filmmakers in front of a train station, just as a late-night train zooms by. It derails, almost comically, as the ensuing explosions are basically non-stop for about two straight minutes. Compartments continue to rain down on the area, and something bursts out of the train. What is it? Why does the army show up? Is it all a big conspiracy?
Giving that Super 8 is set in the late seventies, it's pretty amazing to see the level of detail of the sets, clothing, and props. It's as if E.T. was filmed down the street or something. And while I don't have first-hand experience of the era, it feels right. Oddly enough, however, the lingo and slang the kids use doesn't sound all that groovy, man. I'm not sure kids were calling each other "douches" 30 years ago, but hey. It's a little jarring.
I mentioned Lost earlier, and I should do so again. Fans of Abrams' TV series will notice a lot of similar aspects in Super 8, but I'm not sure they're intentional. Abrams certainly has a noticeable style, and you can see it in both. In fact, if you were to mix Cloverfield, E.T, and a two-hour version of the first season of Lost, you'd get a feel for what Super 8 is. Cloverfield for the destruction, E.T. for heart and humour, and Lost for the mystery, slow-reveal, and supernatural elements. That's certainly not a bad combination.
The result of that combo is an entertaining movie, and the acting from the previously unheard of kids (save for a "much-better-than-Dakota" Elle Fanning) isn't too shabby at all. There's a fair bit of humour, thankfully none of it toilet, and tons of homages to culture, movies, memorabilia, etc. There's even a rather large reference to The Twilight Zone, if you're into that. (Even the movie the kids are filming features zombies afflicted by a unknown strain from Romero Chemical. Oh, J.J..)
In the end, though, it's just a shame that Super 8 bets it all on the mysterious trailer. But human nature demands we satisfy our curiosities, so most movie-goers will see it based on that. And they'll walk out a little deaf, a little poorer, and not much to show for it. The stakes just aren't that high, so be prepared if you're expecting something huge. Super 8 is a good time; I just think I'd like it more if I wasn't anticipating so much.