Super 8* Review

Film Still
  • Super 8 film still


The best blockbuster of its kind since the Spielberg era.

The reason Steven Spielberg and Stephen King are two of the most beloved – and richest – storytellers of the modern age is because they tap into the hopes and fears of childhoods past. It’s a canny strategy. By speaking to the adults in children, and vice-versa, they win the hearts of the widest possible audience for the longest possible time. Nostalgia never dates. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Like a long-lost Spielberg movie glimpsed through a post-modern filter, Super 8, written and directed by Lost and Star Trek ace JJ Abrams (with Spielberg producing), is set in small-town '70s America, and makes you feel woozy for your own Hollywoodised youth.

The BMX bikes and unattainable girls; the bad hairstyles and worse shirts; the sparkler-lit adventures with a mismatched clan of friends (see The Goonies and It). It’s a time when, to borrow Wim Wenders’ phrase, America was colonising our unconscious; when the movie came ahead of the event or, at least, before we knew what we were being sold.

If two of the biggest filmmakers in the world can release the blockbuster of the year without spoilers, we’re damned if we’re going to give the game away, so let’s just say this: Super 8 follows Joel Courtney’s clan as they shoot a zombie movie – and something more besides – on the eponymous camera.

Framed with a cinephile’s obsessive eye, this is a film about falling in love with film. Often we watch Courtney and co shooting against ‘real-life’ backdrops that could only exist in a film, all in service of ‘production values’, as a mini Orson Welles played by Riley Griffiths is fond of reminding us. Meanwhile, George A Romero and make-up legend Dick Smith get fond mentions, while Courtney has a Star Wars TIE fighter swinging from his bedroom ceiling.

But this is far from empty homage; Abram’s script shows real heart and guts throughout. Absent mothers wreak emotional devastation far worse than any sci-fi threat (“She used to look at me this way… really look,” says Courtney as home-filmed footage of his mum sadly unspools before us, “and I knew I existed.”).

Meanwhile the kids bicker and bitch, swearing like troopers and acting like they don’t know they’re in a movie – pretty rare in these stage-schooled days. There are also some great jokes nodding to the as-yet-unlived 1980s without breaking the fourth wall, a trick Back to the Future managed so well.

Like King and Spielberg before him, Abrams recognises the shadows between the fairground rides – that the people who are supposed to save us often can’t or won’t; that the disappointments we once felt so keenly may one day submerge our lives by stealth. It’s a thrilling, transporting experience that brings to mind a quote from King and Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12," recalls Richard Dreyfuss, looking back across his life. "Jesus, did anyone?" The same could be said of films like this.

View 8 comments


4 years ago
Totally agree! What a great summer movie. It's a pity there aren't more blockbusters with this kind of soul...


4 years ago
Sorry this is a terrible movie its just a poor Abrahams nod to Spielberg. Mind you I'm one who thinks E.T. is rubbish and this film feels like ET for an slightly older, yet not cinematically mature audience


4 years ago
I can't believe the positive reviews this film is getting - it's an absolute stinker!


4 years ago
First 35 minutes were great, good suspense and I really got into it... Only to be bitterly disappointed from that point on. The adult characters seemed to be just an afterthought with little personality or depth.

The end came suddenly and was the biggest disappointment of all.


4 years ago
Pretty dopey comments above to a degree - I though LWL was about coherent criticism? HAving seen Super 8, really enjoyed it. The child actors were fantastic, it was well shot and edited, concentrated on character and storytelling and managed to up the tension to a fine degree for its age rating. Even my g/f loved it, and she hates blockbusters!

Anyway, I don't have a problem with any director lifting the best off of others, and JJ Abrahms might just make, outside of overuse of lens flare, the style his own if he could resist paraphrasing next time. I'd rather see films made with an obvious love, like this one, than some of the more recent muck Hollywood has been feeding blockbuster fans. It has depth and attention to detail and some real standout sequences.

My real criticisms would probably be the incoherence of some of the dialogue, as I had to struggle to understand it sometimes, and the fact that I found the menace, once revealed, somewhat atypical of current creature design. Whereas glimpses of it looked wonderful, the eventual somewhat cartoony and unoriginal beast lacked a sympathetic edge and was pretty much interchangable with much of the guff you'll find in many modern computer games. Which is a shame, somewhat. But the rest? Superb.


4 years ago
Hi bowendesign. I agree entirely (except about the dialogue). I didn't mention the poor creature design because I didn't want to give away any spoilers at all pre-release. Guess it's OK now.


4 years ago
The children are great and the build up is good and I really enjoyed it. However I found the ending a big let down and did not live up the rest of the film and as for ET for this is nowhere near the film that ET was.


4 years ago
The young actors really look amazing and this movie awesome, but most of the impressions I received from the story which removed the actors themselves.
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