Super 8 allows me to acknowledge a certain quality that I tend to gravitate toward in films – it’s the concept of nostalgia. I tend to melt and give myself to a film that takes a bygone era and playfully acknowledges it with a hint of humor. Super 8 does this on a multitude of occasions. Taking place in 1979, we see Walkmens, we hear My Sharona, and we don’t see a cell phone in sight. But the things that do remain are what make the film even more interesting – romantic longing, the joy of friendship, a sort of innocence of having your summer off.
Of course, nostalgia can only take you so far, and it’s a good thing that Abrams seems to know what he’s doing; both with his script and direction. To say this film is tight might come across as dismissive, but that pretty much sums up what I thought of at least ¾ of Super 8. The opening sequence is virtually perfect – we are taken to a factory setting where we see a sign that indicates the number of days since there has been an accident. A man enters the frame as he removes the numbers – which are in the hundreds – back to one. We then cut to a funeral party, as we see a young boy named Joe (Joel Courtney) alone on his swing, holding onto a necklace. The elements of this scene are important, in that so much of it comes back throughout the picture. And wrapped up in all of this is a level of earnest beauty, perpetual loss, and overwhelming tension.
As the picture begins to develop, we see characters placed in a context of reality. Their behavior rings and exchanges constantly ring true. Them being grounded in a reality only escalates the tension in of their un-reality. It’s a monster film in every way, but given that Abrams takes time to develop his characters before introducing the source of chaos is enough to really elevate the material into something special.
Super 8 falters as it reaches its conclusion. It’s expected, particularly given that the film is constructed around the idea of a monster plaguing a town, and eventually you’re going to have to have some sort of confrontation between your protagonists and antagonists. Abrams realizes a world-ending climax well, though it’s all disappointingly typical of a film that was anything but. Still, I can’t help but feel delighted by seeing a mainstream summer film that emphasizes character over action – what a novel idea.