After much viral hype and speculation, the J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg alien epic “Super 8” has now landed in theaters. With a similar setup that Abrams used in “Cloverfield,” the film depicts a mystery-shrouded, violent alien and its encounters with Earth’s inhabitants. The story centers around a group of small boys in Lillian, Ohio who narrowly escape a train crash. This leads to a series of strange occurrences from dog disappearances to a top secret project involving the military, air force and — gasp! — an Area 51 specimen. Sadly, the film doesn’t live up to its galactic hype, as it quickly becomes your typical ’70s-era interstellar encounters flick.
No amount of special effects and colossal crashes can make up for the droll storytelling and a cookie-cutter plot. The movie feels too familiar, a been-there-done-that type of ordeal. Small, Midwest town with its own personal troubles becomes the center of something much greater. the lead characters start out as timid children, but rise up and take on the mysterious forces –– it all sounds so predictable.
And it is. The hackneyed, dysfunctional father-son relationship between Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) and the protagonist, his son Joe (Joel Courtney), is a textbook example of “you don’t get me” and “I don’t know how to be a father” attitudes, with a dead mother/wife to boot. Joe’s love interest Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) also comes complete with a tainted past, her father Louis (Ron Eldard) bitterly feuding with Jackson as the children form a Romeo and Juliet type relationship, sans suicide. Yup, seen that too.
While the generic family relationships are strained, the dialouge between the children is one of the most charming, amusing parts of the movie. The dynamics between squeamish Martin (Gabriel Basso), pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee), quirky Preston (Zach Mills), bossy filmmaker Charles (Riley Griffiths) and Joe provide comedy that only snarky, bad-mouthed middle-schoolers could — in a good way. Their subject matter may not always be original, but the actors are convincing enough to the point where you laugh out loud at the nutty lines and childish one-liners.
However, a movie can’t rely on the zany friendships between children. But wait, you may ask, isn’t this J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg? Shouldn’t the effects, both audible and visual, make the film incredible? While the tremendously explosive train crash scene is a metal-spewing fireball of epic proportions complete with ear-shattering sound effects, it appears to be the only truly gripping scene of the entire movie. The darkened encounters with the unknown extraterrestrial provide grab-your-date jump scenes that still prove to be exciting despite them falling right into the tired mold,. While the sound effects and CGI may be top-notch, it barely carries the film through its 112 minute mark. No amount of explosions and metal-shearing noises can make up for the film’s overall, stock-like quality.
At it’s core, “Super 8” is exactly what it was set out to be: a ’70s-style alien flick. However, in doing so, it doesn’t introduce anything new besides updated effects. As the credits roll, the film doesn’t leave you wanting more, nor does it showcase a fresh take on an old-school genre. If the “Super 8” is meant to be a tribute to the intergalactic features that came before it, then it wildly succeeds, as it captures all the elements of those same movies with an Abrams/Spielberg flare. However “Super 8” falls short of its hyped up promotion, as the film is — at best — a decent alien-encounter movie that could easily be missed in the barrage of upcoming summer blockbusters.