Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Movie Review: "Super 8"

Over the weekend my husband and I went with some friends to see this latest addition to the pre-teen-boy-adventure-movie genre.  Some people are already comparing Super 8 to films like Stand by Me and The Goonies.

The plot line of Super 8 certainly has much in common with its two predecessors.  All three movies feature as a main protagonist a fresh-faced young boy in his early teens facing a significant personal loss or problem (in this case, the death of his mother in a horrific industrial accident). He is accompanied by his small cohort of quirky friends, each with his own issues (in this case, one overweight boy with attention and control issues, another who has a strange fascination with explosions, and another with a tendency to be sick every time he is frightened).  An event ensues that sends them all down the road to an adventure (In this case a dramatic train derailment, which releases a mysterious and dangerous extra-terrestrial creature and uncovers a military conspiracy to keep the alien being captive and secret). The boys face danger together, grow up a little (at least, to a point), and are never the same again.

For a fuller synopsis--with spoilers--hop on over to Wikipedia.

While parents are largely absent in The Goonies and Stand By Me, they occupy a more prominent place in Super 8.  Deputy Jackson Lamb, the father of the main protagonist, has a difficult time coping with the loss of his wife and with single fatherhood.  He has an even more difficult time coping with his anger toward Louis Dainard, his wife's alcoholic coworker, since she was killed while covering a shift for him while he was drunk.  Dainard's daughter, played by Elle Fanning, occupies the novel place of token girl in a pre-teen-boy-adventure-movie.  Her own guilt and embarrassment over her father's behavior adds dimension to her budding friendship with the central protagonist, giving their relationship more depth than the typical "first crush".  Dainard himself is coping with guilt over his own actions, and anger at his wife for leaving him. Naturally this puts a strain on his relationship with his daughter.

The film revolves around the question of how to handle personal loss, and the importance of allowing one's own pain to turn into compassion, rather than destruction of self or others.  Even the mysterious alien creature is coping with its own grief and anger at its captivity at the hands of the military.  As the plot unfolds, each of the emotionally injured characters is forced to confront his or her own pain, and in the process, they help each other find healing and forgiveness.

Given that Stephen Spielberg is one of the producers, one would expect the special effects to be interesting, and these should satisfy anyone who enjoys action, noises, some gore, and (much to the satisfaction of one of the characters) spectacular explosions. Even with the very current nature of the effects, the atmosphere of the film, aided by the retro 1970's setting, hearkens back to earlier movies.  The alien creature is handled in a way that prefers suspense over spectacle.  The film's reliance on effects does diminish its opportunities for character development somewhat.

A roll of super 8 film.
If you do go to see the movie in the theaters, don't forget to stay for the end credits. They feature the amateur film the boys make using the Super 8 film from which the movie gets its title.

Due to frightening situations, some profanity, and one instance of less than glamorous drug use by an empty-headed store clerk, I'd say this film's PG-13 rating makes sense.  Young children would probably find the movie excessively frightening. Parents of younger teens should exercise their own discretion before allowing their youngsters to see this movie. Older teens and adults should  be able to watch the film with no trouble.

With its entertaining performances, well-timed scares and laughs, and relevant, if predictable, themes, I found Super 8 to served very well as weekend entertainment. The Catholic News Service gives this film a rating of A-III (Adults). This schoolmarm gives it a grade of B+.

No comments: