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could you shut up, I'm trying to film here...

PG-13

Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Kyle Chandler, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills, Ron Eldard

Cary:  I took apart two packs of cherry bombs, and I made my own M-80!  Do you wanna see it!?
Martin:  Your obsession with fireworks…and I’m saying this as a friend…concerns me…and my mother.

While filming a zombie movie in the Summer of ’79, a group of kids witness a train accident.  The military descends on the scene immediately in order to cover up, and recover, something mysterious that was on the train.  The recovery effort proves difficult, while objects – and people – begin disappearing around town.

What do you get when you throw just about every project producer Steven Spielberg and Writer/Director J. J. Abrams have ever worked on into a blender?  Well, I suppose you could get a lot of different things, but one of those things is Super 8.  I could go almost scene by scene with this movie and find an equivalent scene from one of those two men’s previous projects.  Goonies, Jaws, Cloverfield, E.T., Close Encounters, Star Trek (lens flare!), etc.  It all felt very familiar.

That’s not to say it wasn’t entertaining.  In fact, its nearly 2 hour run time went by pretty fast.  Yet, it wasn’t exactly amazing, and certainly not without its flaws.

I can’t talk too much about my problems with the movie without venturing into spoiler territory, so I’ll try to be cryptic.  I’ll just say that the mysterious-thing-on-the-train was…well…boring.  In fact, it’s odd to say that it was almost unnecessary to the real story of the movie.  The real story centers around 4 people trying to deal with a tragic death.  Joe (Courtney) lost his mother in an accident at the factory she worked at.  He and his father, Jack (Chandler), still haven’t figured out how to operate without her around.  Then there’s Alice (Fanning) and her father, Louis (Eldard).  Alice is the girl that Joe has a crush on, but neither Louis nor Jack want their kids seeing each other.  Obviously there is tension between the two men, and you can bet it has something to do with Joe’s mother.

The drama between these characters, and the other kids in the movie, unfolds with the sci-fi stuff in the background.  Sort of like how the kids return the day after the train crash and use it as a background for their zombie movie.  They use these chaotic events as a way to provide atmosphere to their movie, seemingly without fully considering just how serious it all is.

And that’s how I felt about Super 8.  The stuff that is going on with mysterious-thing-on-the-train seems more serious and intense than the movie wants it to be.  It didn’t quite feel like it all fit together.  The kids never seemed frightened enough by the situation, and the events leading up to the ending don’t seem to justify the overly touching finale.  Imagine how the feel good ending of Goonies would have played if several people had been violently killed along the way.  That’s the best way I can describe it.

All that being said, the characters and dialogue are what make this an enjoyable movie.  The kids are believable as friends, the parents are given time to actually be real characters, and the relationship between Joe and Alice is a nice, realistic young teen “romance”.  The only stock characters are the military men.  They are cardboard cutouts just there to yell, be intimidating, and cover things up through any means necessary.

In the end, this movie proves that it’s better to get the characters right and sacrifice some story originality rather than have an original plot without any interesting characters to inhabit it.  I just wish Spielberg and Abrams could have done both more successfully.  Now, if you want to see a film that does both successfully, be sure to stick around through the closing credits for The Case.  It’s a zombie love story that you don’t want to miss!

“Do unto others” doesn’t just apply to humans.

10 – 1.5 for the sci-fi/action aspect of the movie not being very compelling – .7 for the up and down tone of the movie – .3 for all the lens flare!  Sheesh! = 7.5