With Super 8 from 2011, Steven Spielberg reels off another remarkable science-fiction drama and mystery. Taking place in 1979 in a small Midwestern town in Ohio, this story follows a group of middle schoolers who are creating an amateur film for a contest. Spielberg worked with young actors on many of his projects, and Super 8 is yet another representation of this iconic attribute of his. Each of these characters have a different personality, and they come together to form an interesting conglomeration of traits. Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is the main individual focused on in the film. The movie opens with a dark, depressing tone as we see that his mother has died in an industrial accident. However, a time jump four months later shows that he is enjoying time working on this movie project with his friends. This reminds me a lot of Steven Spielberg’s childhood. After Spielberg’s parents divorced during his teenage years, he engrossed himself in filmmaking as an outlet for his emotions. We see a reflection of this in Joe Lamb’s character, as he dedicates a lot of time to filmmaking coming off the heels of a traumatic experience.
The aforementioned support group of Joe includes Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths), Joe’s best friend and the bossy director of their film, Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), the girl they recruited for an acting part in the film who is also a love interest of Joe, Cary (Ryan Lee), the clumsy, trouble-making special effects wizard, Martin (Gabriel Basso), their film’s main actor with a nervous, edgy personality, and Preston (Zach Mills), the nerd of the group. Their quirky camaraderie and unconventional collaboration makes for very entertaining cinema. The otherworldly things they encounter together during their filmmaking adventure only makes this more prominent.
Their first taste of strangeness came in the middle of one of their filming occasions. They happened to findthemselves in the midst of a massive train crash. Visually, this scene is absolutely epic. The explosions and chaos resulting from the collision are incredible to look at. Spielberg was a master at incorporating scenes like this in his films. Soon, it is apparent that this accident did not happen by chance. Something foreign and extraordinary has been released by this train crash. The circumstances are shrouded in mystery and eeriness. It is revealed that this locomotive was transporting US Air Force materials, but there is certainly much more to the story than meets the eye. This secretive military group is obviously very concerned about the events that have transpired. As the story progresses, the corruption of this specific section of the US government is further detailed. They show no mercy to anybody who gets in the way of what they are working toward. A Man vs. Society conflict is depicted here as the truth is sought out by honest citizens. Abnormal happenings begin to occur throughout the area, such as the disappearances of numerous people and electrical malfunctions (Man vs. The Unknown). The audience is teased with hints as to what might be the source of these phenomena. Throughout the film, some significant characters are directly involved with these odd developments, and it is evident that some life force not of Earth is responsible (Man vs. Nature). Some scenes in which this entity is encountered are absolutely spine-tingling. The music takes a chilling tone, before slowly fading. Palpable suspense is created at these points as the only sounds are ambient noises and silence. The viewers brace themselves for something sudden and surprising to take place, and they are not disappointed. Spielberg’s films never fail to have outstanding music scores and composition, and Michael Giacchino’s work in Super 8 lived up to this standard.
Yet, the unnerving aspects of certain segments of this film turn out to be related more to human nature than any alien being. The message that I understood Spielberg to be conveying was that often times in this world, we let our differences divide us and cause discord, when they should be celebrated as bridges that bring us together. Humans viewed this foreign visitor as malevolent and a threat, when truthfully it was not unlike people of Earth in its basic qualities and emotions. This is something that can apply to all eras of human history. There has always been disunity throughout the human race, and the quest to mend these wounds is a never-endingone.
While the story is absolutely ingeniously told and intricately crafted, the unorthodox cooperation of the group of middle schoolers is what truly progresses the film. Seeing the story through their eyes is what really drives the message home. Had the story been told through another group’s perspective, such as the fraudulent and unethical military, then the audience may have found themselves sympathizing with their views. This would have been quite a contrast compared to the way the story was actually illustrated.
In looking at my personal opinion of Super 8, I regard this film as an absolute triumph. Although Spielberg has been involved with multiple cinematic projects revolving around aliens and exotic beings, he finds a way to breathe new and fresh life into each story. As he once again does this with Super 8, it is enough to earn an “A” grade from me.