(This entry is part of “Monster May,” a look at classic and iconic monster movies all leading up to the United States premiere of Godzilla on May 16. For more on what’s going on this month, check out our original post here.)
The Monster: The still unnamed E.T./Cloverfield Monster ripoff (cousin?), Super 8 Monster!
Average Size: Height, 20-30 ft; Weight, unknown.
Claim to fame: Bringing back Spielburg’s Monster style, and the Cloverfield conspiracy.
For those of you that have been following along this month, seeing another Spielburg film shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. I mean come on, this is the guy that directed Jaws and Jurassic Park, not to mention E.T. The Extraterrestrial, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This guy is all about crazy monsters. Not only that, but his style is very definitive: penchant for younger casts, third act reveals, quasi-happy endings that still leave you crying, misunderstood creature. It’s kinda hard to miss.
What should be interesting is that it’s not a Spielberg film. It’s a JJ Abrams film. However, despite not being made by the guy that defined the 80’s and 90’s movie experience, it’s still a call back to his style. A young cast, third act reveal, misunderstood creature, quasi-happy ending, it’s all there!
Set in 1979, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is outside his home alone at the funeral for his mom, who was killed in a mining accident. His dad Jackson (Kyle Chandler), is a deputy in the tiny rural town of Lilian, Ohio, which doesn’t leave him much time for Joe and puts a strain on their relationship.
Fast forward 4 months and Joe is hanging out with his friends making a monster movie. After convincing resident cute girl Alice (Elle Fanning) to help them out, they head to a train station to film their movie. Wanting a better “production value,” Charles (Riley Griffiths) convinces his friends to film as a train goes by, but everything goes crazy when a pickup truck swerves onto the tracks and derails the train, causing a massive crash. Rising from the wreckage, the kids find that the driver of the pickup was none other than their highschool teacher Dr. Thomas Woodward (Glynn Turman). He warns the kids not to mention anything they’ve seen or their lives will be in danger, but before they leave Joe picks up a strange looking white cube, one of thousands scattered everywhere.
Well Joe’s dad Jackson starts getting a little bit worried that the US Military showed up for a train accident, and that they won’t tell him anything about what’s going on. Add to that the fact that all the dogs in the area leave, the lights start to flicker eerily everywhere, and people start going missing and you have one worried Deputy. So in addition to his son having seen some freaky stuff now the dad is all involved too.
And of course, Joe starts falling for Alice. So in addition to a monster problem, a movie to finish, and oh yea his dad is threatening to send Joe off to sports camp (the horror), Joe also has a forbidden romance. See Jackson and Alice’s dad, Louis (Ron Eldard) don’t really see eye to eye. Jackson is a Deputy. Louis is a violent drunk. And also both think Louis is responsible for Joe’s mom dying.
There’s also a monster.
So now, Joe and his friends and, unbeknownst to them, Jackson, all have to scramble to save their own lives, find this monster, and take it down.
Amazingly, this is a really good movie. Now just form the cast it should be obvious that this was going to be at the very worst extremely entertaining, but when you share a name with a cheap third-rate often dirty and inhospitable national motel chain, it really isn’t going to boost your credibility.
But really, this movie has nostalgia written all over it. For fans of the days when movies by Amblin Entertainment were the thing to watch, Super 8 fits the bill perfectly. Small suburban neighborhood where nothing happens? Kids finding the aliens and no adults paying attention? Government trying to patch everything up, and then turning out to be the bad guys? The main kid’s parent the only one that believes him, and ultimately helps him solve his problems? Alien that communicates by touch and ultimately leaves earth peacefully, leaving a crater shaped hole in the young protagonist’s heart (and your own)? You basically just described E.T.
Unlike a lot of films that really strive to be nostalgic but end up feeling bloated and/or pointless, Super 8 keeps enough of its own ideas to be interesting. You can watch E.T. and Super 8 back to back and still feel like while they share the same DNA, are ultimately different movies.
And while the classic JJ Abrams trademark lens flairs are everywhere, and the film wasn’t scored by John Williams, ultimately it’s a movie that will leave you satisfied, happy, and wary of the United States Government.
Rating: Print. It has a strong cast, a good story, an emotional grip, a nostalgic feel, and a fun ride from point A to point B.
(We already mentioned the conspiracy, so come back to see how Cloverfieldmatches up with Super 8 and get some more city leveling action in!