Many early reviews have likened "Super 8" to "E.T.," Steven Spielberg's sci-fi classic from 1982. I suppose the comparison is inevitable. Both films star children, both films feature aliens, and Steven Spielberg is an executive producer of "Super 8."
I feel the film has more in common with "Battle: Los Angeles," the alien invasion bomb from earlier this year. Both films were marketed with cryptic teaser trailers, the aliens in both films are devoid of any personality, and I'm not about to waste my time on either film again.
The story takes place in 1979 with a focus on 13-year-old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney). Like many children in these movies, Joe has recently lost one of his parents, his mother. I certainly understand Joe's misery in the early scenes, but Courtney plays him with a coldness that I found inauthentic.
His father (Kyle Chandler) has trouble connecting to his son in this difficult time, and his demanding job as a small-town sheriff's deputy puts even more distance between the two.
In the meantime, Joe isn't that thrilled to be working on a zombie movie with his bossy friend Charles (Riley Griffiths), but it's something to do with his friends.
The kids go out for a late-night shoot (with Super 8 film of course) at the local train depot. To their horror, they witness a train collide with a pickup truck and violently derail and crash. The crash sequence goes on a long time and progressively gets more disastrous. It is the only good thing about the film. It's worth noting that Steven Spielberg's early experiences with filmmaking involved him crashing his toy trains on camera so he could go back and enjoy the crashes without further damaging his toys. "Super 8" makes a number of in-jokes on the subject.
It doesn't take long for the military to descend on the scene, for apparently they have a great interest in the train's cargo. The mean military men are actually the film's villains because they endanger lives for selfish reasons, but they're too dumb and incompetent to take seriously. They want to keep the population in the dark, but then they make it obvious that they're protecting a secret. Nothing arouses suspicion like telling people not to worry about the information you're hiding.
Strange things start happening around the town. Metal goes missing, dogs go missing, people go missing. The disappearances of the metal and dogs are not seen, but we do see scenes where human victims get grabbed by something. Unfortunately, this is the kind of bad monster movie where the creature has nothing better to do than lurk around and startle unsuspecting prey. And of course, we don't get a good look at the creature as it does this.
Joe and his friends know something's up. They were there the night of the crash, they have footage, they listened to a warning from the driver of the pickup, they have a piece of puzzling debris. With a little research (all done without permission, naturally), they discover that all this bad business is the result of an alien conspiracy. They spend the rest of the movie trying to solve the problem themselves, because they can't trust any grown-ups to be truthful, humane, or successful.
Aside from the train crash, "Super 8" is an embarrassingly generic monster movie. The film is sorely lacking any unique perspective from writer-director J.J. Abrams. The decision to have kids as main characters is a bad idea because they are clearly reciting dialogue written by an adult.
"Super 8" is desperate to be mentioned alongside "E.T.", but it isn't doing itself any favors inviting a comparison to such a superior film. It is less of a companion piece and more of a knock-off.
Two Stars out of Five.
"Super 8" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and some drug use. Its running time is 120 minutes.